Words by Simon Murray
Photography by Robin Subar
Chicago-Main Newsstand is a staple of the City of Evanston.
Back in the days when hash tags were called pound keys and people’s primary news outlet was the morning paper, Joe Angelastri opened up a corner newsstand at a busy intersection in Chicago. He was 18 years old.
Angelastri, like many others, got into the business by running paper routes as a kid. From his home in Logan Square, a young Angelastri tore zigzag through street neighborhoods at dawn delivering papers. As a teenager, he worked his way up, trading a bicycle for a more fixed position at the Six Corners Newsstand. It was 1978. Newsstands were ubiquitous. Especially in urban environs, where city dwellers— head down to mast—unfurled their billowy, ink-stained sails at cafes, on public transportation, and park benches like so many curious, news-hungry Argonauts.
Now in his 50’s with piercing eyes and a boyish face (if not hair), Angelastri oversees the largest newsstand in Chicago, and quite possibly in the United States. Taking over the business from his former boss, Phil Barasch, who had gone on 60 Minutes and admitted on national TV to committing tax fraud, Angelastri bought it from him days later.
At the time, newsstands were legion. But the king of them all in Chicago wasn’t technically even in Chicago. It was in Evanston.
“[Chicago-Main Newsstand] was the big newsstand in the Chicago area,” says Angelastri. Even after the owner of a bookstore around the corner from him offered to sell his indoor space, Chicago-Main Newsstand was perhaps even the largest newsstand in the Midwest.
Paper drivers dropping off their inventories would tell him, “You should see what they’re doing over there.” Angelastri, who liked to visit newsstands all over the country, took their advice.
“It was more like a destination newsstand, people would come quite a ways for that one because they had a bigger selection,” explains Angelastri. “When this store became vacant, and we moved from the newsstand, we used some of the ideas from the Chicago-Main Newsstand in the way we merchandised everything.”
A staple of the Evanston community, the newsstand on Chicago and Main had been open since the 1930s. The original owner, Victor Pinto, began selling papers out of a wooden shack, before moving operations across the street near the CTA’s Purple Line stop. After serving as an informal storm shelter, a late-night hangout for police, and even the scene of a grisly murder, the stand closed in 1993. The CTA, who owns the land, had increased the rent. The owner couldn’t pay it.
So it sat there, boarded up, vacant. That is, until Angelastri was contacted by 3rd ward Alderman Melissa Wynne and Eric Singer, owner of the Lucky Platter restaurant. The City of Evanston had been interested in purchasing the dilapidated newsstand with the idea of knocking it down and extending the park that lay to the south of it. But the community mobilized, expressing a desire for it to once again become a newsstand.
After dissembling everything down to just two walls and the concrete slab of the original foundation, Evanston architect Dave Forte added a new steel support structure, a glass and aluminum storefront, and a higher roof to allow more natural light in through high windows on the north wall. What’s more, the original neon sign was refurbished and rehung on a newly erected standard. Chicago-Main Newsstand was reborn.
“The people there really seem to consider it important. That newsstand is part of the heritage of that area, and they’re really glad to see it open all the time,” says Angelastri.
Today, Chicago-Main Newsstand is an idiosyncratic structure surrounded by modernity. High-rise apartments look down on it. Starbucks and Subway are only a paper toss away. A sign on the land adjacent to it advertises “15,000 Square Feet of Retail Space Available.”
But the newsstand presses on, seeing its fair share of daily commuters, weekend stockers, and out-of-towners.
“I think in the long run print is still going to be there, it’s just got to go through all these changes and they are sometimes painful,” says Angelastri, when asked what the future looks like. “Just like when TV came out, radio was supposed to go by the wayside. Well, people are still listening and stations are still profitable.”
“We’re constantly getting people coming in saying, ‘oh, I remember this place back when I was growing up,’” says Chicago-Main Newsstands’ manager of over a decade, Eric Ismond, speaking to the patronage and nostalgia inherent in the building.”
With over 200 linear feet of magazine racks, Ismond says they carry everything from art and architecture, fashion, and hobbyist magazines, and imports in languages as varied as German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and French. After the terrorist attack on Paris-based satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Chicago-Main Newsstand carried the following issue. One of the only newsstands in the Evanston and Chicago to carry it, the issues quickly sold out. They now carry it regularly.
“Our policy is to try and carry everything that’s available,” says Ismond, “that way, we’ll have something for everybody.”
The death of the publishing industry be damned.