Mission News is less than a week away from closing its doors after 26 years of business at its Chorro Street location. On April 22, the legendary newsstand is set to shut its doors and fade into a vortex of other antiquated retailers made obsolete by large competitors and the availability of information on the Internet. That is, unless Chris Straub and Dan Wallis decide to revive the business.
Mission News, at time under various names, has provided its readers with the politics, pulp, and curious interests of the world - bound and stapled - for 125 years on the same block. Wallis has been working at the newsstand for the last 22 years, and Straub for seven. But since Barnes and Noble opened up, Wallis said Mission News hasn't been healthy. It's been a hard five years, he said, and a change of ownership didn't help the situation either.
"What made this place work previously was that we had the 'redneck' and the 'Berkeley' together," said Wallis. Before Barnes and Noble and before the store changed ownership, Mission News capitalized on offering a range of periodicals unavailable anywhere else in the county, like gun magazines and progressive liberal publications. When the new owners, Tri County News Agency, took over, they changed the selection of the
Mission News started carrying less of the "redneck" and "Berkeley" magazines. That, said Wallis, unfortunately ended up hurting the store.
There's also the lack of a Berkeley-esque college scene that can support a newsstand like Mission News, Wallis said. San Luis isn't home to Berkeley, it's home to Cal Poly. Nonetheless, Straub said Mission News provides the community with what he calls "a social service."
Surrounded by the neat rows of endless magazines - hours of perusal potential - Straub said, "There's nothing really out there like going to a newsstand and going to browse ... time disappears." Straub prides Mission news on being a cultural and educational information center of downtown, a place where discussions on politics and life can flare up quickly but never get heated to the point of anger. Mission News is in a way the epicenter of free speech in San Luis Obispo.
"A lot of discussions happen in the store," said Straub. "There's no bitterness. You can express your ideas openly and walk away."
Although Wallis cited Barnes and Noble as a major reason for the decline of the newsstand, he added that there were other reasons for the shop's failure, too. There is of course the popularity of the Internet and the immense instant access to information that it's granted to so many.
"I think, more than the Internet, [what's hurt us] is how magazines and newspapers are in every drugstore and liquor store," said Wallis.
Perhaps the changing faces of downtown have had an effect on Mission News business as well. Wallis speculates that there has been a shift in foot traffic.
"Theoretically this should be a great location," he said. But now there's more foot traffic heading for the Downtown Cinema area, and in the future it will head for the new Court Street area. Maybe a few blocks does make a big difference.
"That's going to be good for the future city, but it's bad [for the existing city]," he said. When it comes down to it, though, Wallis says the newsstand business "is not healthy."
Wallis said he wants to keep the store going, that he's got a lot invested emotionally, but it just seems impossible. Straub, who will graduate from Cal Poly in six weeks, said he's got an emotional attachment to the store as well but he's not sure he's ready to take on the business full time.
"I'm still kind of convinced [that a newsstand could work]," said Wallis. "We're being encouraged to take it, we want to take it, but we haven't made up our minds yet."
Maybe if we got some rustic unfinished wood in here it would work, Wallis said. Maybe. Â³
Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.