On December 31, 2019, First and Pike News, the iconic newsstand located in the entryway of Pike Place Market, closes after 40 years, its demise mirroring the decline of the newspaper industry and the public's increasing reliance on the internet for news and entertainment. Initially called Read All About It, the business opened on October 25, 1979, started by Lee Lauckhart in partnership with veteran newspaper vendor Sabetai (Seby) Nahmias, who owned the original license to sell newspapers from the southwest corner of First and Pike. Stephen E. Dunnington joined the business in 1980. In 1980, First and Pike News became the first business in the Market to open on Sundays, and its prime location attracted locals and tourists alike. During its heyday, First and Pike News carried about 180 newspapers and 2,000 magazines; at the end, the stand stocks about 55 papers and 1,700 periodicals.
A Natural Fit
First and Pike News was started by Washington native Lee Lauckhart (b. circa 1941) who earned a degree in environmental health in 1968 from the University of Washington. During the Boeing Bust years of the early 1970s when jobs were scarce, Lauckhart moved to New York, where he met and married a woman whose father owned a newspaper stand in Manhattan. Lauckhart embraced the occupation and ended up selling newspapers for several years. After his marriage ended, he returned to Seattle in 1975 and started making jewelry from horseshoe nails.
But the newspaper business had gotten under his skin, and he decided to try his luck with a newsstand in Seattle. In a way, his entry into the business carried on a family tradition. His grandfather, John Charles Gregory (1862-1933), was the owner of The Auburn Argus from 1902-1906 and publisher of the Bothell Sentinel from 1909-1933. His uncle Albro Gregory (1911-1987) was a reporter with newspapers in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C., before traveling to Alaska, where he bought the Nome Nugget, the oldest newspaper in the state. Albro was a born reporter, known as "one of the most colorful characters in Alaska journalism" (Allen).
Lauckhart asked Sabetai (Seby) Nahmias (1927-1987), an old-timer who had sold newspapers on the corner of First and Pike since the 1940s, to join him in the enterprise. (Stephen E. Dunnington [b. 1950] joined the team in 1980.) The stand opened for business on October 25, 1979, and Lauckhart made sure the grand opening was a festive occasion. He rented a searchlight for $100 to scan the night sky and both he and Nahmias sported tuxedos as they offered cake and champagne to guests. On the twentieth anniversary in 1999, another party was held, with the newsstand decorated with balloons and green and yellow streamers. Shoppers and gawkers alike were invited to enjoy cake and punch while listening to Cajun music.
Stocking the Stand
When the newsstand first opened, papers were sent from distributors around the country by air to San Francisco, where they were sorted and flown into Seattle using air-cargo line Flying Tiger. About seven months after the business opened, on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted, giving Lauckhart's fledgling business a boost as he stocked and sold extra editions published for weeks after the eruption. He later said he felt so guilty about profiting from the disaster that he ended up donating some of his profits to the Red Cross.
Sunday was a big day in the newspaper industry but in the late 1970s, shops and stores were traditionally closed. Lauckhart realized that a newsstand shuttered on Sundays did not make much sense. In the spring of 1980, Read All About It became the first business in Pike Place Market to stay open on Sundays; other businesses followed suit. Before long, the stand had become a gathering spot for locals and visitors, "a sort of unofficial town square" ("In Losing ...").
Lauckhart enjoyed the sense of immediacy and constantly changing nature of the newspaper business, telling The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "You own a fruit stand, you sell apples and oranges every day ... But here, it's the news, it's history, it's always different" (Halverson).
News Hounds and Quirky Characters
A free spirit, Lauckhart was well-suited to the characters who populated the halls of Pike Place Market in the 1980s, from the down-and-outs to news junkies. "Whether it was helping a local drunk dry out by dropping him off at various campsites in the region, or calming a nervous horseracing fan who fretted about getting his lottery ticket cashed, Lauckhart proved a steadying force ... [He] acted as a kind of protector for those on the margins ("In Losing ..."). For many years, he lived above the Market in a studio apartment; his daughter Aana slept in a converted closet and sold newspapers after school.
Lauckhart made his own rules for managing First and Pike News, the first being no cash registers, because, as he put it, that would be the first place a thief would look. The sales staff kept cash in their apron pockets, which freed them to walk around the stand, answering questions and helping customers. A tiny kiosk served as the business center with a credit-card reader, rubber bands, and scissors. The employee roster at one point numbered 33, but had been reduced to only a handful by 2019.
Labor of Love
The variety of periodicals available at First and Pike News was staggering. There were four magazines about model trains and four on wristwatches. Customers could purchase magazines on needlework, beekeeping, or boating. Have an interest in gardening, shotguns or Star Trek? First and Pike News was the place to visit. The stand was the region's top dealer in foreign language periodicals, with publications available in German, Italian, Yiddish, Chinese, and more. Lauckhart sold postcards, calendars, and tourist trinkets as well as packs of Hubba Bubba bubble gum for customers to chew and add to the Gum Wall around the corner. Wrote Laura Kaufman of Crosscut:
"Browsing at First & Pike News always proved a treasure hunt ... You never knew what you were going to discover among the eclectic array of magazines – nearly 2,000 on the shelves, from the sacred to the profane. Religious publications, such as Lion's Roar: Buddhist Wisdom to Awaken Your Heart and Mind, sat alongside a comic book drawn by a local artist featuring Jesus, on the cross, admiring the view of his house from up there. You could practice Français by reading French GQ, take an imaginary trip down the Nile with one of the many travel magazines. Or pick up a copy of Doug Bright's Heritage Music Review, a monthly guide to early rock, blues, country folk and traditional jazz in the Seattle area" ("In Losing ...").
After 20 years, Dunnington, who had opened two other newsstands in the meantime -- Steve's Fremont News and Broadway News on Capitol Hill -- sold his share of the business in 2000 to Lauckhart. It was "partly because of declining sales, but also because they had different philosophies ... Lauckhart liked to run the business by the seat of his pants, while Dunnington wanted to keep precise track of inventory, using a cash register" ("In Losing ...").
The End of an Era
For the newsstand's final 13 years, Lauckhart did not a draw a salary, living instead off his Social Security check. He paid his employees $15 an hour long before it became mandatory. He offered health insurance and generous holiday bonuses. On December 13, 2019, he announced he would close for good in three weeks, setting off a frenzy of nostalgic reporting. He attributed his longevity as a business to his prime location in the Market. "We would have gone 10 years ago at any other location ... Expenses outran the revenues," Lauckhart said. "I was going deeper into debt. I believe in paying as you go. If I'm not able to do that, I'll pull the curtains and go home" ("In Losing ...").
At the time of closing, Lauckhart remembered the writeup he received when his newsstand opened in 1979: "Big deal, big news: Seby Namias [sic], who's been selling the daily blatts for 37 years at 1st and Pike, has taken in a new partner. This turns out to be Lee Lauckhart, a Market craftsman, who brings the brilliance of "Read All About It" -- a newsstand with all the local and West Coast papers plus a big selection of domestic and foreign mags. Opening festivities tonight -- complete with searchlight, 'just like the auto dealers in Lynnwood,' says Lauckhart" (Halverson).
More than 40 years later, Lauckhart, family, and staff gathered at First and Pike News on New Year's Eve, 2019, for the last time, wearing their old-school aprons and sporting newspaper memorabilia. A regular dropped by to wish him good luck on his next adventure. Lauckhart grinned and replied: "My next adventure will be a rocking chair with a book" (Ronco).