Last stop for One Stop: The digital revolution claims the corner newsstand

February 28, 2014

No one really needs a newsstand anymore.

We have tablets and smartphones and 4G to pull up all the breaking news from Le Monde or Der Spiegel, if that’s what we want, before we get out of bed. We don’t need to bend down to the lower shelves to find this month’s GQ or to get a dose of the old home-town paper, all those Plain Dealers and Press Scimitars. We don’t need to rush down to the newsstand for the latest on our shared trauma (“Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor!”) and daily dramas (“Nab Three in Fed Red Scare”).

So we don’t need places like One Stop News, the fluorescent-lit haven of glossy stock a few blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, right at the gateway to George Washington University. It’s gone now, Friday its last day of business after 25 years, just like another anachronism, Tower Records, bit it in the same walk-in mall a few years ago.

There will be no more musty smell of moldering wood pulp under the hard lighting at One Stop. No more lingering over the previously undiscovered, like Combat Aircraft or Straight Stuntin magazine. No more car mags, or bike books, or fashion and photo and music periodicals, in their profusion, all beckoning to be fondled and studied. No more yellowing souvenir copies of The Washington Post’s 2009 Inaugural Edition (“Obama Takes Oath,” $3.50). No more racks of dirty magazines in their shrink-wrapped shame (High Society is still published? Who knew?). No more hard copies of Le Figaro or the Daily Racing Form or the London Review of Books, either.

Surely, we can stumble onto Farm Collector or Fortean Times (respectively, a magazine about antique tractors and a publication about weird stuff) on our iPads and Kindles. That is, if we know they exist, which we probably don’t because our Facebook friends haven’t mentioned them lately. And because there are fewer places like One Stop News, where they are right there in the open.


A selection of newspapers and magazines on sale at One Stop News, a Foggy Bottom newsstand that is going out of business.

On Friday, the young people, GWU students, blithely walked past the shop, heads buried in their phones. But the old-timers — lawyers and staff people from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters nearby — knew what they were losing. They came up to manager Brian Keaveny and owner Jim Kostoff all day and offered what sounded like condolences, or prayers for the dying.

The regulars are of a certain age, the kind who grew up when information was manufactured and delivered via industrial processes that seem absurdly inefficient today. “I don’t know what I’m looking for when I come here,” said one of them, Dan Macy, a journalist and One Stop customer for the past decade. “And that’s the point.”

Macy walked out of the store clutching a fat stack of print to his overcoat — the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun, Guardian Weekly, the British Hello! magazine, a foreign edition of Esquire and more. Total sale: $81. He wasn’t part of the problem.

The autopsy on One Stop, and places like it, is rather obvious, and almost mundane. “Death by a thousand cuts” is how Keaveny, an employee since he was a GWU student in 1990, puts it. Rent in the building, owned by the university, wasn’t cheap, though Keaveny wasn’t really complaining about that.

Instead, he said, the business has changed, especially since everyone got a broadband connection about 10 years ago and the economy began tanking five years after that. The two trends closed like a vise on One Stop, he explained: When advertisers began chasing the digital mob, print publishers began raising their prices to make up the difference. Print sales tapered, and so began a self-perpetuating death cycle. Profit margins for retailers and magazine wholesalers deflated. Candy and cigarette sales aren’t what they used to be, either, he said.

Every once in a while, there was a spike, a little flurry to inject some hope. Vanity Fair’s revelation of the identity of Watergate legend Deep Throat a few years ago was a hit. “A celebrity baby makes a difference” in newsstand sales, too, he said. Same with the new pope, Francis; guy’s a big seller.

Keaveny knows that it’s easy to sentimentalize newsstands and their passing, and he tries hard not to do so. But he thinks back to black-and-white photos of Parisians or Londoners stopping at the train-station news vendor, or Americans clamoring for news of World War II on a city street corner.

People are busier now, he notes, and besides, content is abundant and free online. “Everyone has a smartphone,” he said. He has one, too, plus an iPad, a Kindle and an iPod Touch.

He looks at his shop, and this is about as emotional as he lets himself be: “No one comes here because they have to. They come here because they want to.”

Yes, and the headphone generation will never know what it’s missing: A magazine cover on an iPhone screen will never look as good as it did on a newsstand.

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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