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A newsstand's last stand

Seattle's "last surviving corner newsstand" is endangered. The Los Angeles Times reports that the blue news kiosk on the corner of Third Ave. and Pike Street downtown has been ordered shut down by Seattle's Department of Transportation.

The newsstand at Third Ave. and Pike Street, in 1926. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

The newsstand at Third Ave. and Pike Street, in 1926. (Seattle Municipal Archives) None

Seattle's "last surviving corner newsstand" is endangered. The Los Angeles Times reports that the blue news kiosk on the corner of Third Ave. and Pike Street downtown has been ordered shut down by Seattle's Department of Transportation.

According to the Times, the embattled newsie is:

....Benjamin Gant, whose narrow, blue-metal kiosk..., said to be the last surviving corner newsstand in Seattle, sells newspapers (well, most of them are free), hot coffee, soft drinks and copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence (at $5 apiece, these are Gant's real profit engine)....

Gant, 28, is battling with the city over whether his 87-year-old newsstand — one of the oldest in Seattle, where the city's most famous news vendor, the one-legged, trumpet-mouthed labor activist and Newsboys Union founder Frank Turco sold papers for 47 years — should be razed as an eyesore.

The city says Gant's kiosk is currently in violation of three elements of the city code. If Gant can refurbish the place, they might consider a new application.

Gant says he'd like to turn it into a memorial to Turco and the labor past he represented. (He estimates that could cost $23,000.) The Times story also gives a brief history of exploited news vendors ("news wretches") and their struggles in Seattle with exploitation, changing times, and being among Seattle's marginal characters. Some of that tradition is still carried on by the brave and comparatively quiet entrepreneurs who sell Real Change today.

While Seattle talks of wanting to promote urban vitality, times and attitudes have changed when it comes to news vendors. While kiosks are ubiquitous in Europe, America's newspapers have been slowly disappearing from the city streets. That's due partly to declining dead-tree circulations, more free newspapers, fewer cities with competing dailies, and the ability of folks to get headlines on their digital devices.

Plus, retailer-driven clean-up projects have been suburbanizing urban streets everywhere by getting rid of "clutter," such as newsstands and news boxes, which are blamed for blocking pedestrian traffic and contributing to litter. After the WTO riots, some even advocated removing freestanding downtown news boxes altogether because anarchists could easily toss them through the windows of McDonald's or Starbuck's. That's hardly proved to be a chronic problem.

While Seattle streets no longer ring with the cry of news vendors hollering "Peeee-EYE Paaaaaaay-PUHH," it would be a shame if Gant's kiosk vanished from one of the city's most urban corners — and a corner that needs help, by the way. The newsstand probably wouldn't qualify as a landmark — and that wouldn't necessarily protect it anyway, as Manning's/Denny's fans discovered, but kiosk certainly falls into the category of unofficial landmarks that ought to be preserved somehow. The city should help Gant find a way.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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