OAKLAND — DeLauer's Super Newsstand, a downtown Oakland institution that carries more than 6,000 magazine titles, is closing its doors this week after more than 100 years.
The downturn in the economy, competition from big-box bookstores and Internet sales are forcing the iconic newsstand at 1310 Broadway to close today, said owner Charles DeLauer.
"Business is down so bad," he said Tuesday from his Piedmont home. "We just can't afford the rent. It's up pretty high, up to $6,500 a month."
Joseph Churchward, the store's accountant for the past eight years, said DeLauer's has been financially troubled for a long time.
"The industry is changing, and books, newspapers and magazines are dying," Churchward said. "There have been great cost increases, and it's time to shut the door."
Last year, the company lost about $200,000, he said.
What's more, DeLauer, 91, said he is suffering from a form of lymphoma and is in no condition to rally to keep the shop afloat.
The downtown shop was busy Tuesday but customers were shocked and saddened to hear of the store's impending demise.
"This place is really conducive to browsing and taking your time," said Gregg Loew of San Leandro. "This is the only store I've run into that has such a variety of magazines and such a vast selection to look through."
Since 1907, the newsstand has offered thousands of options for readers, such as comic books, obscure technical journals, hobby magazines and foreign newspapers and magazines. It's open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's not uncommon to find people browsing the stacks at 3 a.m. or on Christmas Day.
At the modest store with a historic neon sign, customers can get a New York Times or a Des Moines Register. They can buy La Gazzetta dello Sport or Al-Ahram. There are racing forms, books, Lotto tickets, magazines, Swisher Sweets pipe tobacco, Beeman's chewing gum and Twinkies.
Until recently, you could find DeLauer, the son of the original owner, upstairs in the office in his sweater-vest and glasses, doing the books and listening to an A's game on the radio — still sharp as a tack. His wife of 65 years, Natalie, and his sons Bud and Robert have been instrumental in running the store through the years.
The newsstand has been at its current location on Broadway between 13th and 14th streets since 1966. For more than 30 years before that, it was in cramped quarters on 12th Street.
It was unclear Tuesday what will become of the space on Broadway. Stock will be sold this week and then returned to the vendors, said store employee Fasil Lamme.
"It's been a long run," DeLauer said.
Lamme, who is losing his job, said he is upset to see the store shut down.
"This place was like a library," he said. "We had regular customers who would come to look at the magazines. I am so sad to see it go."
DeLauer's has been closed twice in the past 25 years.
In 1984, fire gutted the store when a trash can underneath the front counter, possibly from a discarded cigarette, caught fire. At the time, more than 5,000 customers visited the newsstand every day. DeLauer promised to rebuild. He did. By January 1985, the store was open and thriving again.
Five years later, the family business survived the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989 with little damage, only to be closed a few weeks later because a wall of a building next door was damaged and threatened to collapse onto the newsstand. Repair work was eventually done and the store reopened in July 1990.
It's not surprising DeLauer's has suffered from a lack of foot traffic. The asphalt thread on Broadway between 13th and 14th has in the past several years become a magnet for homeless people, panhandlers and the mentally ill who live in nearby residential hotels. With bus and BART stops out front, groups often loiter on the sidewalks, asking for money and harassing passers-by.
"It's an Oakland institution, but it's a tough time for a business like that. Downtown needs some revitalization and we are working on that," said Scott Peterson, public policy director for the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. "A business like that survives on foot traffic, and you need foot traffic that is going to spend money."
In the past year, the Gap store on Broadway has moved from downtown as have the offices of the Oakland Tribune. The closure of DeLauer's comes just days after the loss of another local institution, Cody's Books of Berkeley. Owner Hiroshi Kagawa, an English books distributor in Japan, announced Friday he was closing the independent bookseller's last location, on Shattuck Avenue, just three months after it relocated from Fourth Street.
Although plans are to close the newsstand today, some are fighting to prevent that from happening.
David Glover, executive director for Oakland Citizens Committee on Urban Renewal, is attempting to save the store.
"The city of Oakland is concerned with the sustainability of this community, so we want to work with them to save this place," Glover said. "And there need to be conversations with the family and potential investors."
Also helping him is Gay Plair Cobb, chief executive officer for the Oakland Private Industry Council.
"This place played a big role in the development of our city," Cobb said. "And Mr. DeLauer is much loved in this community. We are rallying to keep this institution afloat."
Staff writer Jeanetta Bradley contributed to this report. Reach Kristin Bender at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-208-6453.