After a six-month closure due to damage from last December’s deluge, the owner of the downtown newsstand on Ocean Avenue expects to reopen by June 1.
“The happiest people will be my German customers; they will be thrilled,” owner Heidi Miller said last week. The World Newsstand lived up to its name, carrying a diverse magazine selection as well as current weekly editions of foreign papers such as Germany’s Der Spiegel.
Miller, a news junkie who reads five newspapers a day and two business weeklies, will be happier, too, knowing her favorite reads are close at hand. “I try to read it online, but I don’t,” said Miller, who also owns a neighboring boutique, Tight Assets. “Not being able to, I don’t feel as smart,” she said.
Even so, four years ago Miller applied her considerable business savvy to come to the rescue of the newsstand, whose tall wooden doors were closed for six months after a 12-year run because the previous owner struggled with diminishing revenue and slim profit margins. Nevertheless, Miller signed a five-year lease with the landlord, who also owns the building where Tight Assets is a tenant.
This time, though, rather than economic doldrums, the stand was hit by disaster: two to three feet of water from a record 100-year storm in December flooded downtown, damaging the inventory of many businesses and scores of homes throughout the city. Floodwaters knocked over the newsstand register and swept away street level papers and magazines, some as much as $40 an issue. Anything among the 500 to 800 titles that might have been salvaged curled and rippled due to moisture.
Miller tallied her newsstand losses at $15,000, but it was her store’s uninsured losses of 10 times that amount that set her back, cleaned out her bank account and preoccupied her attention. She kept two newsstand employees on the payroll, working instead at Tight Assets.
In recent weeks, though, Councilmember Elizabeth Pearson urged Miller to reopen the stand before summer, even offering to help organize a fundraiser to raise operating capital. “Heidi has worked really hard to provide a community service,” Pearson said. “It’s one of the things that makes Laguna unique. Visitors from out of town really love it; they can find publications they get at home and don’t have to leave town.”
Pearson wasn’t alone in expecting to see the stand reopen. Since the closure, at least 25 people have buttonholed Miller on the same topic, including one woman in line at the grocery who asked, “when are you going to open our newsstand.”
“That was the sweetest thing,” said Miller, whose involvement with the newsstand has generated far more attention than her boutique, including pitches from other communities such as Beverly Hills to set up shop there rent free. “One is plenty,” said Miller, who spurned other offers. She can sustain the stand’s thin profits of 10 cents per paper or $1 per magazine because it isn’t her sole source of income.
The stand’s fans reflect its value in the community, according to Miller. As newsstands throughout the country have closed, with only major urban centers retaining that luxury, Laguna’s stand strived for hip cachet. Eyewear maker Oakley shot a print commercial at the stand. One woman was photographed at the stand for her wedding announcement, absorbed in a bridal magazine.
“I hope having it closed for five months, that people show their appreciation and will wrap their arms around it so it stays forever,” said Miller, also a proponent of buying local.
She is able to make repairs and re-order inventory as a result of a personal loan from Allan Simon, chairman of Firebrand Media, which publishes the Laguna Beach and Newport Beach Indies, as well as sister city magazines. “Heidi and Elizabeth feel it would be nice to have the newsstand open before June 1,” said Simon, who will be repaid in four months.
When the newsstand reopens, customers should see newly refinished doors, new magazine racks and local publications prominently displayed. Some of the more avant-garde titles she used to carry, well-thumbed but rarely purchased, won’t be restocked. And for celebrities, who used to stop and scrutinize the tabloids, curious if they rate a mention, they will walk away with copies of local magazines on the house.
“We’ll continue to do that; I’m big at promoting local,” Miller said.