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Traveling Papers : Distant Dailies a Current Event at Newsstands

Times Staff Writer

The fastest-selling newspaper at Paras Newsstand and Cigar Store, says manager Kent Snyder, is the Washington Post.

“Everybody’s just dying to get that news from the capital,” Snyder said.

Bill Mitrew just opened a newsstand on 5th Avenue downtown--5th Avenue News Center--and can’t keep enough foreign papers in stock.

“San Diego is getting to be a real big city,” laughed Mitrew, a Greek-born merchant with an accent as Mediterranean as retsina wine. “Everybody coming in here wants a foreign paper--the London Times, papers from Paris, Italy, Germany. . . . I never thought it would be like this.

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“Maybe in L.A. (from which Mitrew recently moved), but not here. Well, I was wrong. They want foreign and out-of-town papers just as much as they do in L.A.”

Five years ago, the picture was different. Snyder, of Paras Newsstand and Cigar Store, which has been a North Park landmark on 30th Street since the 1950s, said out-of-town papers then could barely “cut it.”

Low Return on Unsold Papers

Return on unsold papers was low or non-existent. Few, if any, distributors cared to hassle with out-of-town papers, regardless of demand. Prices for postage and air freight made counter costs of the distant dailies look a bit like the defense budget.

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Many such factors remain the same. More distributors have cropped up, but the Washington Post several days late still sells for $4.95 at Paras--a bargain contrasted with other stands.

What’s different, merchants say, is demand. It’s gotten heavier and mirrors the changing face of San Diego.

San Diego is getting to be more big-city, salespeople say, and far more cosmopolitan. Sales of out-of-town papers--even those from Milan--are further proof, Snyder said, that San Diego ceased to be a “sleepy little Navy town” many back issues ago.

Hard-Boiled Journalism

“Absolutely,” said Judy Kiefer, saleswoman at Encinitas News and Eggery, which, according to its slogan, specializes “in fresh eggs and foreign newspapers.”

“San Diego County is much more cosmopolitan than it used to be, and sales of foreign papers are just one of the ways we see it,” Kiefer said. “We have thousands of new people (in the county) every day. We do incredibly well during the racing season. We have far more tourists from out of the country than we used to.”

Snyder and Kiefer label sales of such papers a “boom.”

“There’s a revival going on,” Snyder said. “We can’t keep enough of these things.”

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The heyday of out-of-town papers was at least 25 years ago, when a person could cruise into Universal News on Broadway and buy dailies from Boston, Kansas City, Des Moines, Cincinnati or St. Louis. Those days are gone for good, merchants say.

The comeback is real, but not to that extent.

Universal News gave way to the wrecking ball in the late 1960s. The site now belongs to the Little America Westgate Hotel.

Rocky Paras, co-owner of the 36-year-old Paras Newsstand and Cigar Store, hesitates to call the trend a “back-to-the-future” phenomenon. Instead, he sees it as another wrinkle in San Diego’s emergence in the Sun Belt.

Like Satellite Dishes

As more and more people move here from someplace else, they crave reminders of home. Out-of-town papers, in his view, play the same connecting role as do satellite dishes that beam in football games to fans whose loyalties to San Diego don’t yet include the local franchise.

“Sales of these papers are much, much better than five years ago,” Paras said. “It’s because of our population--our ever-growing transient population.”

Jon Mayes, owner of the relatively new Butler & Mayes at La Jolla Village Square, said sales of such papers aren’t just good, they’re the raison d’etre for his shop.

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“It isn’t that I’ve noticed a revival going on--it’s that I’ve never noticed a slump,” Mayes said.

The reason for the streak is customers like Eric Allen Cohen, 33, a La Jolla-based architect and interior designer who exemplifies the new San Diegan frequenting such stores.

Cohen, a Butler & Mayes regular, buys Abitare and Domus, Italian magazines that, in his words, “focus on architecture, interior design and furniture design--on an international level.”

Buys It Every Day

He buys the New York Times every day of the week, plus the London Times.

“I’m interested in tracking overseas financial activity, what’s happening in the European market,” Cohen said.

Are foreign publications helpful?

“Extremely,” he said. “They help me develop a focus on current architectural issues, on a global basis. I then relate these ideas to everyday design problems.”

Mayes sells 15 national papers and 35 foreign papers--from England, France, East and West Germany, Spain, even Pravda from the Soviet Union. He sells the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post and has ordered an Australian daily because of demand from newcomers hoping for word from Down Under.

He’s trying to get the Times of India, which so far hasn’t responded to a single query. Spurred by demand, he recently obtained papers from Ireland, Switzerland and Mexico.

The disadvantages of hawking such papers?

“It takes a lot of time,” Mayes said wearily. “Getting them, holding them for people. . . .

They’re very expensive, with little markup, even though people desperately want them and would pay almost anything.

“We get calls from people wanting small-town dailies from Tennessee. We have a reputation for carrying a lot of out-of-town papers, but this is ridiculous. We don’t have every paper published in the country.”

Kiefer at Encinitas News and Eggery said sales of beyond-California papers have gotten so heavy that owner Bonnie Jo Bechtold plans to hatch a new eggery/newsstand in Pacific Beach.

Kiefer listed just “a few” of the papers they sell: Portland Oregonian, Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Houston Post, Vancouver Sun, Seattle Times, Boston Globe (one of the county’s hottest sellers, she said), Arizona Republic, Denver Post, Honolulu Star Bulletin and virtually every paper printed in London.

Her foreign lineup includes La Republica and Il Corinale from Italy and Le Monde and Le Figaro from France.

Kiefer said price is a big disadvantage, although buyers willfully--and happily--fork it over if they can stroll out the door with the paper they want.

Paying the Price

Whereas one distributor once held a monopoly over out-of-town papers, competition has scattered the market, merchants say. Butler & Mayes deals with 25 distributors; Encinitas News and Eggery buys from six.

International News Service still serves many local stands, including Paras and 5th Avenue News Center, but doesn’t have the chokehold it once did.

So volume has increased. But would you pay the price? The following are from Encinitas News and Eggery:

London Times, $5.95. Boston Globe, $4.95. Seattle Times, $3.75.

So why don’t readers just subscribe and have the papers delivered to their mailbox?

“Good question,” Kiefer said, “one I’ve asked myself. And you know, I don’t know the answer.”


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