business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Seattle Times has a story with an elegiac quality about it … about the imminent demise of First & Pike News, a newsstand that has been operating in Seattle's Pike Place Market since 1979.

"Owner Lee Lauckhart has decided to close the landmark newsstand on Dec. 31," the story says. "The stand was built of words, but the numbers just don’t add up, he says. Declining newspaper and magazine readership means declining sales. It’s that simple … Lauckhart used to carry 180 different newspapers, but has let that number drop to 55. He once carried 2,000 magazines, but has cut that by about 300 … He’s had just 33 employees over the decades; now he’s down to three."

The Times writes that "for the past 13 years, Lauckhart has not collected a salary. He has been living on his Social Security while still paying his employees $15 an hour long before it became law. He also provides health benefits, even if the employee only worked one shift a week."

First & Pike News, the story notes, is very much old school: "There is no cash register. Clerks keep cash in their aprons ('Old school,' Lauckhart said, wagging the front of his apron) so they can wander around. In the tiny kiosk that serves as a counter, there is a credit-card reader, rubber bands and scissors."

I used to swing by First & Pike News when in Seattle. It was just steps away from the fish market, and maybe a quarter mile north walk to Etta's, my "local" when I'm in the city. The newsstand was a reminder of similar stores in Harvard Square and New York City that I used to visit when I was younger, placed that were bursting at the seams with newspapers and periodicals that would, if you read any of them, tell stories about people and places hitherto unknown or unfamiliar. They were places of connection, and when I was young, I spent way too much of my money on magazines and out of town papers that would take me beyond myself.

But that's old school, too. The world comes to us now via gadgets and screens, and we don't need to peruse the offerings of such newsstands. It doesn't mean we don't read, just that we read differently. Though maybe not for the better.

Lauckhart's daughter Aana tells the Seattle Times that "her father has been keeping the newsstand alive — and taking the financial hit — as a matter of principle. 'It’s because of his deep belief in the free press,' she said, 'and how democratizing a newsstand can be'."

Democratizing, I suspect, in the sense that newsstands would encourage the seeking out of a variety of opinions and positions, as opposed to finding refuge in the people and institutions with which we already agree.

I'm not really surprised by the demise of First & Pike News after 40 years, though I can't call up any outrage about its closing. This is the world as it is, not how we'd like it to be.

But I'm still sad, and wanted to Open your Eyes to it. In the words of Arthur Miller, "Attention must be paid."
KC's View: