When New Stand launched, it stocked all the major papers; it’s just that nobody bought them.
Photograph Courtesy The New Stand
If you got off the L train at Union Square, in 2015, you would have noticed, in a niche that used to belong to one of the city’s dilapidated newsstands, something like a teeny tiny night club. The little store, called New Stand, was gleaming white, like an Apple product, with a soundtrack of throbbing dance music. Instead of the usual newsstand offerings (the Post, PayDay bars, plastic-wrapped porn), it sold kale chips and instant cameras. It has since disappeared, but other New Stands have popped up in thirty-nine locations, mostly around New York, including aboard the city’s ferries and in the upscale mall Brookfield Place. The company’s logo is a smiley face containing the word “New.” New Stand’s Web site describes it as a vision from the future: “Imagine if your favorite blog and your favorite bodega had a baby.”
For the most part, New Stand does not sell newspapers. Or magazines, really, beyond a smattering of fashion and tech publications. This wasn’t necessarily what its creators intended. “We launched with all the big papers in the Union Square subway,” Lex Kendall, one of New Stand’s founders, told me last week. “They didn’t sell!”
“Except The New Yorker,” his co-founder, Andrew Deitchman, added. “That flew off the shelf.” (He was joking, obviously.)
It was a sunny morning, and we were standing in New Stand’s storefront on the Bowery, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Kendall and Deitchman are in their forties, with scruffy beards and friendly demeanors. Deitchman previously co-founded the advertising agency Mother New York. Kendall, who used to put on corporate fashion events, was wearing a sweatshirt that said “New York Or Nowhere,” in the same font as the New York Times masthead. He ticked through the categories that have been doing better than printed reading material: “Snacks and drinks, obviously. We’ve been growing health and beauty month over month. Consumer electronics is also really big. So, all these charging pads and accessories.”
Some background: newsstands—traditionally, ramshackle steel structures—have been a long-standing feature of New York’s sidewalks. (There were 1,525 newsstands at their peak, in the nineteen-fifties, selling morning and evening editions.) In 1911, when the city tried to purge them in a cleanup effort, William Merican, the president of the Newsdealers’ Association, told a reporter, “Why, there are some men who cannot eat their breakfast without a newspaper.” He added that women buy the papers to make them “forget their misery. If the public cannot get their newspapers on the street, they will find the inconvenience intolerable.” The newsstands stayed. I got this anecdote from the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, whose author, Jeremiah Moss, is a newsstand fan. “I miss seeing what people were reading on the subway,” he told me.
There were 1,525 newsstands in New York City at their peak, in the nineteen-fifties, selling morning and evening editions. Today, the city has a little more than three hundred.
Photograph from CBS / Getty
In 2007—with Facebook and Google gobbling up newspapers’ ad revenue—the Bloomberg administration attempted to “rationalize” the city’s beleaguered newsstands (the mayor’s word), replacing the old, jerry-rigged stalls with slick, corporate-looking edifices from a marketing company, which uses their exteriors to sell programmatic ads. Today, the city has a little more than three hundred newsstands. They are required by law to sell printed material. But Max Bookman, a lawyer who represents the New York City Newsstand Operators Association, told me, “I talk to newsstand operators who feel lucky if they sell fifty newspapers a day.” For the most part, they eke out a living on convenience items: snacks, bottled water, e-cigarettes, lottery tickets, and umbrellas when it’s raining.
Kendall’s inspiration for New Stand came from his experiences living in Europe, where there are cool stores underground, including the Carrousel du Louvre, a mall below the museum in Paris that features an inverted glass pyramid and used to have an Apple store. New York was “like a crazy time capsule,” he said. He and another partner, George Alan, teamed up with Deitchman, and launched the Union Square store. Deitchman recalled, “The M.T.A. gave us a list of suggested products that clearly hadn’t changed for half a century. It was like: mustache wax, beard combs, pocket chains.” Ironically, many of these items had come back into fashion with the hipster clientele who rode the L train from Williamsburg. “We were, like, ‘This is perfect!’ ” he said.
The men quickly learned that New York’s subway system is a challenging place to do business. For one, Deitchman said, “There are none of the basic things you would need to have a store: bathrooms, air-conditioning, heat, storage, Wi-Fi.” The M.T.A. lease had strict rules, so they weren’t allowed to sneak in air-conditioning units. Kendall said, “We had staff tell us, ‘I don't know if I can make it through the day. It’s eighty-five degrees!’ ” They also learned that New Yorkers aren’t interested in shopping in the subway. “It’s a cultural thing,” Deitchman said. “In other cities, they might stop and think, Hey, this is a nice place to buy stuff. But in New York people are just, like, Get me out of here!”
They closed up shop last year. But they’re hoping to succeed in another classic newsstand location: the lobbies of tall buildings. There are New Stands in 4 Times Square and Via 57 West, Bjarke Ingels’s pyramid-shaped building in midtown, with more to come. The stores’ offerings will change frequently and be tailored to the needs of the locals. Deitchman said, “If you think about what a newsstand was—like, dial the clock way back—it was where you figured out what was happening in the world. Getting Life magazine was, like, a big deal. And now, obviously, all of that information is at your fingertips.” But there are other modes of learning: tasting new snacks, for example, or buying gadgets. “We’re creatures of curiosity. We forget that. You’re born, and the first thing you do is put shit in your mouth. What we’re trying to do is bring a little bit of discovery and curiosity back into the workplace.
Deitchman showed me around the Bowery storefront, which included an array of items to amuse and titillate the area’s downtown denizens: a retro Polaroid camera bearing the logo of the TV show “Stranger Things,” a leather backpack by the brand Sunday Somewhere, a Click & Grow tabletop herb garden, and a line of vibrators with cheeky names—the Tennis Coach, the Fireman, the Millionaire. They seemed like excellent last-minute birthday gifts. Deitchman said, “You come in because you’re, like, ‘I have a headache. I need Tylenol.’ And it’s, like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen this brand Sunday Somewhere. Or, ‘Holy crap! There’s a “Stranger Things” Polaroid camera?’ ” He added that New Stand is introducing a lending program. “By the way, you’ll be able to sign these out and go shoot some stuff around the city.”
The old newsstands were funded, in a way, by advertising revenue. That’s what sustained the publishers who produced the news. New Stand is, partially, a real-life ad. Up to twenty per cent of its goods are from “partner” brands, meaning the companies have paid for product placement. In the Bowery store, these included Sennheiser headphones and the electronic toothbrush Quip. For a higher price, brands can also do store takeovers. “We did a great partnership with Glenlivet for Mother’s Day,” Deitchman said.
I can’t say that I was uninterested by New Stand’s offerings. After poking around, I selected a La Colombe canned latte (immediate needs) and a novelty children’s book called “Woke Baby” (don’t make me explain). Deitchman showed me how to pay for my stuff with New Stand’s app—which is where the news comes in. The app offers its patrons daily “content curation,” Deitchman said: a playlist and a selection of articles, most of which are gleaned from the Internet. There’s also a system to reward users. “You can earn loyalty points not just for buying stuff but for every article you read!” he said.
We proceeded into the company’s headquarters, behind the storefront. Leaning over a balcony, Kendall and Deitchman pointed out New Stand’s youthful, seventeen-person staff, working at a long table on the basement level, next to a Click & Grow herb garden. The editorial staffers were trolling the Internet in search of articles that are “optimistic and curious,” Deitchman said. “It’s not like there’s hard news in there. It’s everything from a cool thing happening this weekend in the city, to an interesting discovery that NASA just made, to ‘You should really know about this new, emerging hip-hop artist.’ ” So far, customer feedback has been positive. “People love it,” he said. “There's a reason why our logo is a little smiley face.”
This is where my heart sank a little bit. New Stand didn’t create the state of publishing in the twenty-first century, but it feels like a physical manifestation of it: a millennial Brookstone, with a side of happy blog posts. New Stand does sell newspapers and magazines in airports, and, Kendall said, the company will gladly stock them elsewhere—“We don't want to be ageist or formatist,” he said—but nobody seems interested. The next frontier is inside offices. New Stand plans to open little stalls in workplaces that sell healthy snacks—organic lentil salads, chia balls—along with items like dry shampoo, charcoal toothbrushes, and CBD pain sticks. Deitchman described how, in the future, if you need a snack at work, you’ll be able to walk down the hall and buy items using the app. The news, he said, will be even more curated: “We can let the employer insert a couple of articles about what’s happening in their company into our content feed.”