The common man, living in his not-so-common city, needs his news fix.
Newsstands in the San Fernando Valley lavishly support his habit with everything from the Times of London and Maariv newspapers to Crochet Fantasy and Raunchy Redheads magazines.
Perhaps more interesting than the magazines that line newsstand shelves are the people who line the aisles and the workers who palm the quarters in a city’s daily exchange of news.
“I’m a compulsive reader,” said Alec Wisner, his hands clutching a stack of 12 magazines at the All American News newsstand on Ventura Boulevard in Encino. Wisner, 39, estimates that he spends $400 a month on such items as crossword puzzle and boxing magazines, Racing Forms, the New York Times and TV Guide.
The only reason Wisner buys the New York Times is for the crossword puzzle. “Frankly,” he said, dropping his eyes, “it’s the only puzzle worth doing.”
3 Visits a Week
Wisner also receives 20 magazine subscriptions at his Northridge home. He visits newsstands about three times a week. “Every third stop, I really look over the stand carefully to see what I’ve missed,” he said. “When I go on a trip, I bring a suitcase full of magazines to read on the airplane--to catch up.”
Zeno Tharp, an employee at the Encino stand, accepted a $20 bill that Wisner slid him over a wood-grain Formica counter. “I love to watch people,” Tharp, 77, said, slipping a Viceroy into his mouth. “They’re an interesting subject.”
In a corner of the shop, a man dressed in a red-checked shirt thumbed through some male erotica, then reached far behind the stack to pull out a copy of Thrust.
Long aisles of magazines, each probed by a video camera, surrounded Tharp. Thousands of glossy magazines lined the shelves, waiting to be fingered by customers: so much sticky flypaper. Rows of fluorescent lights spread a peculiar glare over the scene as Tharp looked up into a single camera, which studied him.
“I don’t particularly care for that,” Tharp said, pushing up his glasses as he jabbed a finger at the camera. “I imagine they go home and watch me to see what the hell I’m doing.”
Most owners of Valley newsstands said theft is not a major problem, adding that cameras and convex mirrors help convey an image of tight security. “I think we have more theft by the wind than anything,” said Bernie Skoboloff, who owns the Woodland Hills Newsstand on Ventura Boulevard and the Northridge News on Nordhoff Street.
Skoboloff’s Woodland Hills store carries a full range of 300 automotive magazines, 100 computer magazines and 50 home decorating periodicals such as Country Sampler, Victorian Sampler, Unique Homes and Colonial Homes. All newsstand owners receive full credit from publishers for magazines that remain unsold at the end of the month.
“You want winners?” Marissa Pollock asked as she zipped out 40 Lotto tickets for a man taking a stab at the week’s $44.5-million jackpot. Pollock, an employee at Skoboloff’s Northridge store, watched as another man traveled around the store’s interior, picking and choosing from 5,000 titles.
Browsers Go Topic-to-Topic
“You get people in here with a huge variety of interests,” she said as the browser, who appeared to be an executive on his lunch hour, first picked up Swimwear Illustrated, then wandered over to Easy-to-do Wood Projects before thumbing through Psychology Today.
Next he visited “the sophisticates,” as the erotica is called, where Billy’s English Governess and Hanging Breasts occupied his time before he went on to Budget Flying, Diet Success, the 1989 Macintosh Product Directory--then back to Supersluts, Sex for Three and a glance through Mustang Monthly (an automotive magazine) before finishing his excursion in the swimwear department again with Swimsuit International.
Some newsstand regulars consider their haunts the key to an extended family.
“The owners know when I bought my house, when my wife got pregnant, when my first daughter was born, when I’ve gotten my raises and when my promotions went through,” said Daniel Flynn, 30, who has shopped at Northridge News since it opened four years ago. “It’s always nice to see a smiling face.”
Barbara Israel, who has shopped at the Northridge stand for two years, visits it Mondays and Fridays. “I come in on Fridays to buy People and Mondays for the trash magazines,” said Israel, 30. Israel’s reading diet includes the National Enquirer, Star, Soap Opera Digest, TV Guide and the Atlantic Monthly.
Tim Knappen, 39, a cashier at Victory Newsstand on Victory Boulevard in Van Nuys, is considered by customers to be the Mr. Goodwrench of newsstand employees. Victory Newsstand has been a 24-hour-a-day mainstay in the Valley for 45 years.
“There ya go, Bill,” Knappen said, pushing a Racing Form into a ’67 Cadillac that had just pulled to the curb. “If I get out there fast enough, sometimes I get a 50-cent tip. It’s not like working a bar, but what the heck.”
Within the next 15 minutes, Knappen, who lives in Van Nuys and has worked at the stand for three years, also doled out some matches, called a cab, gave out some change and phoned the Sherman Oaks Newsstand down the block (also open 24 hours) to fetch a German magazine for a woman who insisted on his help. Smiling, he called each customer “ma’am” or “sir.”
“Sometimes women come here when they get semi-mugged,” Knappen said, pulling on a brown stocking cap edged in orange. “Glad to help them out.”
Knappen has had several run-ins with drug addicts and violent types at the stand, which appears more disorderly than other Valley stands.
Grimy blue shutters were permanently pushed up to the stand’s roof, and torn boxes of books and magazines spilled out onto the sidewalk. Dogeared pornographic videos with such titles as “Professor Probe” and “The Whore of the Worlds,” taped together to prevent theft, lined two rows of shelves. Purchase receipts, from many years back, fanned out at each side of the cash register, where a sign read: “Warning. Protected by RoboCop.”
“One time, about five guys picked up bricks, sticks, knives and started moving in on me,” Knappen said, adding that the men forced him up against the cash register. “That’s when I knew I had to use this .” Knappen picked up an iron bar he keeps at the side of the register. “I picked it up and swung it, and they all ran down the street.”
In contrast, perhaps the most upbeat, contemporary newsstand is that of Sheltams Fine Periodicals in Calabasas. Looking like a leftover concession stand from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games with its splashy, pastel graphics, Sheltams has forgone the traditional stretched-out newsstand for a “more interactive, flowing design,” said Paul Sobel, who opened the stand two years ago and owns four other newsstands in Los Angeles.
“The space was square and difficult to work with,” explained Sobel, 31, adding that the two long rows of shelving, topped by pyramid shapes, can be accessed from the back, front and sides.
Sobel’s other Valley store, on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, specializes in weekly Hebrew-language newspapers such as Shelanu, Maariv, Laisha and Yediot, which sell from $1 to $5.25. The Jewish Press, a weekly printed in English, sells for 50 cents.
What’s the most popular magazine at area newsstands?
Most newsstand owners agreed that inquiring minds still want to know--the National Enquirer and Star tabloids head the popularity list. People, TV Guide and Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue are next in line.
“Every year it’s the same story,” Ted Kaye said, commenting on the popular swimsuit issue. Kaye is manager of Sheltams’ Encino location. “They never seem to publish enough.”