For Latino readers, there is a little bit of everything at Laurel Newsstand in Pacoima, where the affable owner, Lewis (Lucky Lew) Gross, greets his customers with broken Spanish and a heavy New York accent.
Teen-age girls browse through his Spanish-language collection of romantic comic-strip novels while immigrant workers ask him for Mexico City "scandal sheets" filled with graphic stories of murder and corruption. And Gross sells Low Rider magazine to the young Chicanos who cruise surrounding streets.
"We specialize in Spanish because 95% of the people here are Spanish," said Gross, a 75-year-old former New York City policeman. "There's no Jews here but me. . . . If you find someone here who isn't Spanish, they're probably lost."
The transplanted Easterner might not seem to fit the role, but his little newsstand on Van Nuys Boulevard is an important part of the cultural life of the East Valley. His business is one of a handful of Valley newsstands and bookstores where everything from Penthouse magazine to the Bible are available in Spanish.
On a recent weekday, business at Gross' newsstand was slow, but steady. "I'm looking for Cosmopolitan in Spanish, but I can't find it," said Maria Holguin, an El Paso native who lives in Pacoima, as she scanned the racks of magazines. Eventually, she took a copy of a comic book, "El Pato Donald" (Donald Duck), for her 4-year-old daughter, Kristina.
Gross boasts the largest collection of Spanish magazines and newspapers in the Valley. La Opinion is the biggest seller, with about 150 copies sold each day. He pointed with pride to 14 different English-Spanish dictionaries and self-taught courses in U.S. civics. "They use those to study for the amnesty," Gross said.
Not everything is informative and educational, however. Gross also sells about 20 different sexually oriented magazines, most in plastic wrappers, in both Spanish and English. The language doesn't really matter, Gross said, since no one really reads these magazines anyway.
Also popular are the sensationalist Mexican magazines, such as Alarma!, which display the tortured bodies of crime victims in color photographs.
Donato Jimenez, 55, said he likes these magazines because they are relaxing and a diversion from his job as a hospital janitor. He said he has found articles about a growing scandal surrounding the Mexico City police force especially entertaining.
"They're real crooks," Jimenez said. "All those rats in Mexico who are policemen and who are robbing the people. . . . I'm glad they arrested them."
For the Chicano youth of the East Valley, Gross sells not just Low Rider but also Teen Angels at $9.95. The Rialto-based magazine features, among other things, snapshots of tough-looking youths posing before graffiti-scarred walls.
"It's a nice magazine," Gross said, as he leafed through the glossy pages with elaborate drawings.
No copies of Teen Angel or Alarma! can be found a few miles away in Arleta, where Roberto Lozano and his wife, Marta, operate another Spanish-language bookstore, the Libreria Cristiana Emmanuel on Nordhoff Street.
Lozano is a member of the evangelical Servants of God Church in Van Nuys. He said he considers it part of his personal mission to fight precisely the kind of literature sold at Gross' and other newsstands.
"Pornography and all those kinds of books where they talk about drugs and drinking--that doesn't help people," Lozano said. "We feel we have to speak out against that with books that help the family."
Lozano said the bestseller at his Christian bookstore is the Bible. He sells about a dozen versions--leather-bound and paperback, with extra-large type and one on a cassette for the bed-ridden or illiterate.
'My Heart Is Here'
Lozano, a 46-year-old worker at the General Motors plant in Van Nuys, said he opened the bookstore after years of traveling to downtown Los Angeles with his fellow church members to find religious literature in Spanish.
"This has been my dream for 15 years," Lozano said. "I have a secular job, but my heart is here. I come whenever I can."
Most Spanish-language bookstores in the Valley supplement their sales by carrying other merchandise. Although it is called a bookstore, for example, the Libreria Mexico in San Fernando actually carries more records, tapes and cosmetics than books and magazines.
Still, reading material makes up an important part of the store's sales, said owner Arturo de la Parra, who founded the bookstore 20 years ago with his wife, Maria. The daily newspapers La Prensa Grafica of El Salvador and Excelsior of Mexico both sell briskly as do the store's small collection of dime novels.
One teen-age girl blushed when a visitor asked her about the small book she had just purchased. It was titled, "Deseo" (Desire), the story of young woman's romantic adventures as a photojournalist on a Greek island.
"I buy one every week. They're exciting," she said in Spanish. "You never know what will happen next."