After Three Decades, the News Isn't Good at Arthur's Newsstand

Times Staff Writer

During the past 31 years, the grocery and hardware stores, pharmacies and fruit stand in Arthur Raskin's Westwood Village neighborhood have given way to trendy frozen-yogurt dispensers, T-shirt vendors and poster shops.

"I've seen more businesses come and go than you can shake a stick at," said Raskin, 70, whose newsstand has been a fixture at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Lindbrook Drive since 1956.

Now Raskin is going out of business and will fold up his newspaper racks for the last time on Friday.

"I can't hack it anymore," said Raskin, who has been near-blind since birth and is the victim of debilitating arthritis. "I got to the point where I couldn't hardly dress myself or anything. The doctors said if I was younger there would be something they could try, but being that I'm my age they wouldn't try it."

Raskin has trouble taking coins from customers and he often has to ask them to pry apart his calcified fingers to get their change. Now legally blind, he can see only blurred outlines.

But Raskin's memory is still keen. He can recall when the village had only three movie theaters and catered primarily to the surrounding neighborhoods before it became the premier film entertainment center in Los Angeles.

He can remember when the building now housing Josephina's restaurant was a supermarket, when the block of Westwood Boulevard that is now home to a muffin shop, a McDonald's and several chic clothing boutiques had only a yardage store and a beauty supply shop.

Westwood then boasted a J. C. Penney department store, an A & P market and a couple of dime stores, he recalled.

"I've seen a lot of changes, and not for the better," he said. "Especially after they put up these big buildings and theaters. There's been more theft and break-ins than ever."

Raskin said thieves have broken into his newsstand eight or 10 times since he has been in business at the corner.

"They'd steal all the girlie magazines with the exception of Playboy and Penthouse," he said. "A couple of times they stole the gay magazines, but usually they'd leave them alone. They'd steal all the hard-core magazines, so I finally had to give them up."

Thieves Take Advantage

Thieves have also taken advantage of Raskin's blindness to get at the loose cash that he keeps inside the stand.

"I don't see too well, so they'd say, 'Hey, your papers are scattering around,' and I'd go to look and then they'd grab the money out of the tin tray," he said. He now carries most of his larger bills in a bag around his neck.

Raskin said he has also noticed a dramatic increase in the number of homeless people in Westwood over the past few years. The problem was virtually non-existent when he first arrived in the area, he said.

Raskin, too, has had his brushes with bad fortune over the years.

Coin-operated newspaper racks sprouted up like mushrooms following the influx of new restaurants and office buildings, luring customers away from the traditional newsstand and throwing Raskin's sales into a nose-dive. The strike by employees of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner from 1967 to 1975 cut into his business further.

"In the boom days I was selling 200 to 300 papers a day," he said. "After the strike, everything went to pot." Today, he is lucky if he sells 60 papers a day.

Foreign Newspapers

A good share of his sales these days comes from foreign newspapers, including Britain's Financial Times and Daily Telegraph, France's Le Monde, West Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine and a variety of Farsi tabloids for Iranian customers.

Raskin said he makes enough money to pay for food, but uses savings to pay taxes on the modest home he shares with his brother on Prosser Avenue near Rancho Park. He said his four children--ranging in age from 38 to 44--occasionally offer to help.

"I never ask for it," he quickly adds.

Raised in the Midwest, Raskin dropped out of school in the fifth grade, gave up his dream of joining the Navy and settled for selling newspapers on crowded street corners in Chicago and Detroit.

"I just couldn't make it," he said. "At that time people with handicaps couldn't find anything to do."

Even selling newspapers didn't come easy for him. His poor sight forced him to ask co-workers to read him the headlines so he could announce the latest news and persuade passers-by to "read all about it."

He loved following the news on the radio and discussing current events with customers.

"I enjoyed it," he said. "You're out amongst the people. You talk to people, you get ideas. Years back people used to play the stock market. I used to get a big kick out of that. You'd know on a Friday the stock market would go down and on Monday it would go up. These days you can't be so sure anymore."

Rarely Stop to Talk

Today, Raskin said, customers rarely stop to talk about the latest news or just chat. Nevertheless, he has a few faithful patrons who shun the impersonal news racks, preferring the personal service they get at Arthur's Newsstand.

"I just can't stand to buy the L. A. Times from the news rack because I always lose the quarter," said Lee Sanders, 43, a projectionist at Mann National Theater on Lindbrook Drive.

Sanders said he has been going to Arthur's twice a week for the past seven years to buy Variety magazine and the Village Voice. "I guess I'll have to go to the 7-Eleven" once the stand closes, he said.

Raskin is sad about leaving the corner he has called his daytime home for the past three decades.

"I'll be frank with you. I'll probably be lonesome about it because it has been something for me to do over the years. I'll have to find out what I can do with myself in order to keep functioning. If I can use my hands, I might travel around and see the sights a little bit. I'd like to see if I can find someone who can help me."

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