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    Struggling newsstand a last bastion of real Pike Place character

    Owner Lee Lauckhart has kept First and Pike News afloat through the folding of major newspapers across the country. But news isn't all he sells. The stand has served as a gathering place for the market's biggest characters, giving birth to a community of zany locals with Lauckhart at its core.

    Lee Lauckhart poses with the cutout of his old friend Lyle McBride.

    Lee Lauckhart poses with the cutout of his old friend Lyle McBride. Laura Kaufman

    Lee Lauckhart at First & Pike News.

    Lee Lauckhart at First & Pike News. Laura Kaufman

    This is a story about First & Pike News, the only stand left in Seattle that sells nothing but publications — no coffee or convenience items. It’s also the story of owner Lee Lauckhart, who keeps the place going — although sales have dropped by half in the last 15 years — plus his offbeat clerks and the band of eccentric characters who live nearby in subsidized housing.

    “We’re the last of the Mohicans,” said Lauckhart, a soft-spoken man of 70, with pale blue eyes and a button on his apron that reads, “Veterans for Peace.” “It’s a struggle,” he responded to a concerned couple from Hoboken, as he rings up their Harper's. “The only thing that keeps me going is the location,” — in touristy Pike Place Market.

    I first discovered First & Pike News — formerly “Read All About It,” with its hollering newsboy logo — when I was considering a move to Seattle. I was craving the Sunday Los Angeles Times, but Lauckhart told me that the distributor had gone belly up and together, we mourned the decline of the newspaper industry. He admitted he was keeping the stand solvent by taking no salary and living on his Social Security check. That someone felt so strongly about the written word gave me one more reason to move to the Emerald City. “The newsstand is a shadow of its former self,” Lauckhart later said, displaying a photo of Sunday papers that once soared to the ceiling along the stand’s back wall. Several dozen Sunday newspapers from around the country have dwindled to a few. Since the demise of the Post-Intelligencer’s print edition, he sells fewer than 100 local Sunday papers.

    Still, the store is the region’s top dealer in foreign language periodicals. The area's diversity is reflected in newspapers in Russian and Yiddish, and magazines in Chinese, Arabic, Italian, and French. Mel Gibson is splashed across the glossy cover of Arrajol, which bills itself as, “The Monthly Magazine for the Arab Man.” On a recent afternoon, customers requested publications on needlework, industrial design, and yachting. Another local picked up his special order of, The Chicago Defender, a newspaper for the Windy City’s black community. It’s the kind of place where dogs strain at their leashes for a free Milkbone — always in stock. Including Binx, a floppy-eared terrier pulling local novelist Randy Sue Coburn, who stops by daily.

    And then there are the characters — past and present — who haunt the newsstand. Damaged by birth or by circumstance, it is here that Lauckhart and his clerks offer the dignity that society at large denies them. There was Ollie Olsen — a one-armed former news seller with a short fuse, trusted enough to make bank deposits for a nearby restaurant. And Lyle McBride, the stand’s only illiterate vendor, full of old world insults and sayings that inspired their own book. There is also the mute regular with the flowing beard who managed to catch a shoplifter. “I’m proud of the fact that they are able to hang with us, rather than being in an institution,“ Lauckhart said. “It’s an oasis where they can live life without being locked up.”

    Lauckhart grew up in Washington state and studied environmental science, but journalism was in his blood. For a time he headed east to New York City, where he sold newspapers near his father-in-law's newsstand across from the Empire State Building. Lauckhart’s grandfather was the publisher of the Bothell Sentinel from the early 1900s to 1932. And his uncle, a reporter, spilled ink in Chicago and Washington, D.C., before heading to Alaska, where he bought the Nome Nugget.

    After his 1975 divorce, Lauckhart returned to Seattle and settled into a stint as a horseshoe nail jeweler. But it wasn’t profitable, and friends pestered him to open a newspaper store. Seby Nahmias, a Turkish immigrant, had been licensed to hawk papers at the corner of First and Pike since 1914. Lauckhart asked Nahmias to be his partner in the new venture and “Read All About It" celebrated its grand opening on October 25, 1979 – complete with a searchlight, champagne, and copies of the Nome Nugget, which it still carries.

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    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

    Great story! I wrote feature stories for the P-I in the early 1970s and the Pike Place Market was always good for a story about the neatest characters doing the craziest things. This story really nailed it! Nice going!


    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    A wonderful story and a worthy tribute to Lee Lauckhart. The Market that so many worked to save in 1971 is just about gone. But if you glance over your shoulder at First and Pike News you can still see the original Wonder Freeze.


    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 2:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    Could there be many more of these market characters and newspaper hawkers with storage lockers, cash under the mattress, and other small to large assorted, accumulated fortunes? Some of our beloved street musicians and buskers are raking in tens of thousands of tax free dollars per year. I would love to know the real financial story behind alot of these folks who appear in person to be much poorer than in reality.


    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 2:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    Write on, Laura.


    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 4:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    Or they could be reporting their earnings in Nevada and piling up a couple billion cash in unpaid WA royalties..?

    Nah, no one could get away with that.


    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 4:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    Excellent in-depth article. The Read All About It news stand is such an icon I used it for the center piece for a 2007 Market 100 year Anniversary print. The news stand kiosk was added as part of the voter mandated Market Renewal. Master Market Architect George Bartholick showed me early sketches of the news kiosks; one was planned for each side of the entrance to the market. The market planning committee's reduced that down to the one that stands today. The Read All About It panoramic post card of the news stand itself is Seattle's best 25 cent purchase! And the annual Read All About It New Year calendar/staff photo card is always a collectors item. Some one should do a multi-hour oral history of Lee Lauckhart; he has total recall of the real history of the Pike Place Market, 1st and Pike and Skidroad, especially of what used to be. He doesn't sanitize the histories yet his gentle voice makes his comments gentlemanly. A real market hero.


    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 6:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    "The Market that so many worked to save in 1971 is just about gone."

    gabowker, I'm so glad to hear someone else say something I've said for years...


    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 7:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Animalal, you are a wet blanket over every thread you participate in. Your remarks above ignore entirely the story told in the article. Have you ever been to the Market? Get a life.


    Posted Thu, Nov 17, 11:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    What a wonderful article! Thank you very much.

    Posted Mon, Nov 28, 11:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    Terrific article!! Loved reading about all the interesting regulars. I walk by there all the time but rarely buy anything. I'm inspired to change that. The buying part; not the walking by there part.


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