A fully stocked newsstand has added a touch of New Yorkish color to the somber confines of a Metro station in downtown Washington.
The newsstand - the first to be located at any of the 33 stations Metro now operates - has brought a little of Grand Central to the concourse level at Farragut North, Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW.
When the stand opened recently, subway passengers hurrying to and from the train platform were surprised to see racks displaying dozens of magazines and paperback books, stacks of local and out-of-town newspapers and a counter offering not only candy bars and salted peanuts but photographic film as well.
Other stations have only coin-operated vending machines that dispense local newspapers. During rush hours, vendors stand outside hawking the papers.
Judging by customer response, the Farragut North Newsstand already is a success, according to its proprietor, Jimmy Polsky. "They think, wow! Great! People from" New York think it's just great," said Polsky, a 23-year-old native Washingtonian with a business administration degree.
Polsky said he has not been open long enough to know if the newsstand is turning a profit. But he said he already plans to expand his Monday-through-Friday schedule to include Saturdays just as soon as the summer vacation season is over.
Operation of the newsstand skirts close to flouting a Metro board policy that prohibits commercial activity inside the subway stations, with their marble benches, monumental vaulted ceilings and subdued earth-tone tile walls and floors.
The newsstand is not actually inside the station, according to Joseph Muldoon, Metro's real estate director. It is an arm's reach outside, in an area leased by Metro to a company that is developing a three-level shopping arcade, called "the Connecticut Connection," topped by an office building.
Located on the former site of Harvey's restaurant next-door to the Mayflower Hotel, it is Metro's first venture into leasing air rights above a subway station.
On a corner of the site that was not needed for the station, the private leasehold reaches underground. Polsky's newsstand is located in this area, at the foot of the escalator leading from street level, with the wall of the station concourse knocked out to provide access.
Sprague Thresher, Metro's director of architecture, who recommended the policy against commercial activity in stations, said he finds Polsky's newsstand attractive.
"If they could all be like that, it would be swell," Thresher said. "But it's a problem of a precedent."
Thresher, who helped design San Francisco's BART subway before coming to Washington, said the policy was adopted on the advice of transit officials in several cities.
"Everybody we talked to said, for God's sake, don't let them [newsstands] in," Thresher said. "The first thing you know, they have crates, bundles, displays of kewpie dolls, and it gets in the way of [foot] traffic. We are in the business first of all of moving people."
If the newsstand was to become troublesome, Muldoon said Metro could enforce provisions in the lease to compel improvements.
There have been no complaints so far, Polsky said, even though his stand sells snacks to passengers on a transit system that fines people for eating on the trains. CAPTION: Picture, Instead of vending machines, Metro riders at Farragut North are met with a well-stocked newsstand. By Vanessa R. Barnes - The Washington Post