Turning the Page
University-area stalwart closes up shop
By Elise Kaplan
For nearly 30 years Roger Walsh has perched among stacks of newspapers and glossy magazines behind the painted facade of Newsland. He flips through his favorites, National Geographic or Smithsonian, while waiting for the familiar face of a regular customer to walk through the door.
“What do I owe you?” an older man asks, placing the New York Times on the counter.
“I probably have 400 regular customers, and I know them by name.”
“$25,000,” Walsh replies, only half joking, “or I'm closing the shop.”
Most of the browsers scanning the shelves have already heard of the closure, but it hits home when Walsh says the store's last day is Sunday, July 24.
“I feel guilty because this has become such a routine for my customers. I probably have 400 regular customers, and I know them by name,” Walsh says. “I know their kids, I know their grandkids and great-grandkids.” People have told him they remember his store from when they were in college three decades ago, he adds.
Throughout the years, he formed close friendships with many of the folks he sees every week. “Remember that Christmas morning when I got a kitten from your house?” he asks a woman in a Sonic uniform. “Of course I do,” she replies. “What is that cat now, 14 or 15?”
“What's funny is I've had this magazine store my whole life, and I enjoy books.”
The farewells haven't been easy for Walsh. “I've been in tears for three weeks saying goodbye to people,” he adds. “All my friends come from here. The regulars walk in, and they know everybody that's in here. It's a family.”
When he bought Newsland in 1982, it was partially a bookstore, and the shop had just moved half a block west from its Yale and Central location. His plan was to sell primarily the kind of paperbacks he enjoyed reading, but there was more profit in magazines. “I used to carry 4,000 titles, and I read about five of them,” he says. “What's funny is I've had this magazine store my whole life, and I enjoy books.”
He's continually impressed by the voracious reading of his clientele, saying he has some regulars who buy a couple magazines in the morning and are back in the afternoon for more. “I've got some customers that just amaze me with what they pore through. And with diverse interests from politics to science to mechanics to airplanes to porn,” Walsh says.
He gives a man with a long gray ponytail the news. “Where am I going to get Italian Auto now?” the customer asks. Walsh recommends Hastings, adding that he's not optimistic about the future of bookstores.
“Pretty much any interest you have there's a magazine for it. I think we're losing that though,” Walsh says. “I've lost a lot of magazines recently that are going to Internet-only.”
The rise of Amazon, blogging and net news sources makes it harder and harder to earn a living selling the printed word. The recession hasn't helped matters, either. “The Internet has been biting into my business 2 to 3 percent every year. Now with the economy, it's been down 20 percent in the last two years,” he says.
A drastic decrease in sales this year led him to decide to close the store and avoid dipping into his savings. “I don't think print is going to come back,” he says, “and I don't think the economy will come back soon.”
Walsh won't miss the seven-day-a-week aspect of owning a store, he says, but he will miss helping people find what they need and providing a friendly atmosphere for fellow readers. “If a customer comes in and requests a magazine, I search for it and find it,” he says. “That's what's kept me alive through the years, just responding to what people want.”
His customers want their favorite magazines, and they want Newsland. Patrons shake his hand and request that he keep the doors open. It's impossible, he replies to each. “I'm moving on.”
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