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Capitol Newsstand, 1204 Main Street: 29 April 2008   15 comments

Posted at 11:09 pm in Uncategorized

The same day I was driving down Main Street and noticed Lourie's closing, I saw a For Sale sign on the Capitol Newsstand building. Running a google on The State, I saw that, sure enough, it was closed for good.

I'm actually a good bit sadder about Capitol's passing than Lourie's, since it played a much larger part in my life. There was a time when downtown was a good place for books. There was the Paperback Exchange at 1234 Assembly Street (an easy address to remember, though the building has been long torn down), a fairly large selection at Belk's, and above all Capitol Newsstand.

You have to remember that the Columbia market for books was radically different in the 60s and 70s. There was an independant bookshop (Chapter Five?) in Trenholm Plaza, Waldenbooks at Dutch Square, The Happy Bookseller at Richland Mall, and that was about it. There was no, of course, and when a new book by a favorite author would be coming out was a total mystery. The Trenholm store had a very limited selection; Waldens and The Happy Bookseller were better, but each had its own idiosyncrasies about what they would stock. Capitol Newsstand seemed to be better about getting in new paperbacks each month on a regular basis, and displaying them prominently on a "just arrived" table.

In particular there was a science fiction series I was following called Perry Rhodan. The series is produced in Germany and is perhaps the longest ongoing series of any kind now -- the issue numbers are way into the thousands. In the 70s, Ace books got the US rights and would translate two issues a month, and they would hardly ever show up anywere in town except at Capitol Newsstand. (If they did show up elsewhere, they would be months old, and out of order). Every month, I would talk my father into stopping by Capitol "on your way home" (it wasn't really on the way) and he would invariably find the new ones -- I never missed an issue until Ace lost the rights. (Another company tried reintroducing the series to the US in the 90s, but the translators were a lot worse and it read like something translated from German).

Capitol also had the largest collection of magazines in Columbia, and newspapers from all over the country and the world. When you walked in, the comic books would be in the front right, the new paperbacks table would be in the middle just past the counter, the left back would have the shelved science fiction paperbacks and magazines (it was pretty much the only place in town you could find the magazines). The right wall midway back would have the magazines your mother didn't want you to look at, and the right rear would have all the foreign language magazines like "Paris Match"

Capitol once had a thriving set of outlets. There was the main store, another one downtown (somewhere near Kress, I think), one on St. Andrews Road, and one on O'Neil Court. I think the second downtown one closed first, I'm not sure whether the O'Neil or St. Andrews one was next, but they are both gone as well. The Main Street location actually was closed for a while a few years ago and there was some speculation about its future. When it came back, it felt like a shadow of its old self to me.

Why did it close? Well the owner cites health reasons in The State story, but I suspect that was just the final straw on the camel's back. The market has changed radically since the 70s. For one thing, the big box chains have come to town. A Barnes & Nobel or Books-A-Million store has many more books than Capitiol could ever stock, and they get the new books as regularly and display them as well as Capitol used to. Likewise, a big box store has so many magazines that Capitol didn't have an edge there either, and as for out-of-town papers -- well, if I, for some reason, want to see what The Cleveland Plain Dealer had to say about something, I'll check their web-site. Add to all those factors the location, which has metered parking, and not much of that and the mid-level possibility that you will be pan-handled on the way to the store or back to your car, and it's just a place that doesn't make economic sense anymore. I suspect that this didn't help either.

Still in its day, it was a Capitol idea.

UPDATE 4 May 2010: Added full street address to post title.

UPDATE 26 Jan 2011 -- It's now a botique-looking place called Uptown:

UPDATE 24 February 2013: I have added as the first picture on this post one taken by commenter Thomas in 1997. It shows the old-school Capitol Newsstand in operation. (And Capitol Restaurant too!). Note the missing building (at one time a theater, I believe) that was between those two spots, with longtime fixture Know So Servicemen's Center. Thanks!

Written by ted on May 22nd, 2008

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15 Responses to 'Capitol Newsstand, 1204 Main Street: 29 April 2008'

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  1. "Capitol also had the largest collection of magazines in Columbia"
    I suspect that it had the largest collection of magazines in South Carolina, and I wouldn't bet against it beating NC even with Chapel Hill....
    I recall driving up from the Pee Dee even before I-20 made it a smooth drive to check out the Capital Newsstand (and the various used bookstores) -
    - you could buy leftist political books and magazines, foreign language magazines, art magazines, yes i bought issues of Paris Match there. It's hard to imagine how hard it was to find out stuff in those pre-cable and pre-internet days. (I feel like muttering something like "the good old days - they were horrid").
    the last few times I went there, I would come out empty handed.... just hard to imagine how that could be - what used to be a treasure house....

    Steven Rowe

    24 May 08 at 2:50 pm

  2. When I worked at the Bank of America building on Gervais in '97, right by the State House, we'd often stop by Capitol Newstand after having lunch and had a few minutes to spare.

    If I remember correctly, they had a rather stern warning about "reading inside the store", which Barnes & Nobble and others didn't have at all, in fact, they promoted reading inside their stores.



    28 May 08 at 12:50 pm

  3. I think you're righrt about the warning. In fairness though it was a pretty small place. If you got a lot of readers standing around, it would clog up the aisles.


    28 May 08 at 1:06 pm

  4. The Barnes and Noble and Midtown is my library of choice. I can purchase an cup of expensive coffee and read as many magazines and books as I want without being hassled by the staff. In fact, I stopped buying Popular Science since I can read it for free now. There is something positive to be said for the big box retailers.


    10 Jan 09 at 12:40 am

  5. Absolutely, though that B&N has shortened their hours so much over the years that I rarely go there anymore.


    10 Jan 09 at 12:49 am

  6. This used to be the only place you could go to dig through old National Geographics to use for school reports!


    11 Feb 09 at 7:44 pm

  7. It is kinda unfair for Capitol to have a rule against reading inside their store. In fact, I think it's kinda harsh. I mean you should look some to know if it's going to be the book you are going to buy.

    James Greek

    21 Jun 09 at 12:50 pm

  8. I used to hit this place weekly in the mid eighties. It was the only place to get my British car magazine fix. There were lots of problems with homeless and people who had been released from Bull Street. I had a few scares there.

    The pr0n magazines were across from the car mags back in the day. i was 'lucky' enough to appear in a couple of WIS's exposes on the subject, thanks to the proximity to the car mags.

    Once again...I was reading th CAR MAGS!!!


    8 Jul 09 at 9:58 am

  9. When I was at USC in the early '60s, I went to Capitol News many times. At the time, I was a smoker. (Thank the Lord I quit before I graduated.) They had the biggest selection of smokes that I have ever seen. I liked to buy their Sano cigarettes. Consumer Reports had rated that brand lowest in tar and nicotine. I liked them because I couldn't tell that I was smoking. Most of my friends who smoked liked Winstons. They were too strong for me.


    8 Feb 10 at 9:09 pm

  10. haha i remember the porn mags next to the car mags too.


    31 May 10 at 11:41 pm

  11. I worked at the Capitol Newsstand for a little over a year, from early 1981 to mid-1982. I was a freshman at USC at the time and, because I was/am an avid reader, comic book collector and sci-fi fan, I loved the job. The owners at the time were Bud and Merle Hutto and their two daughters, one a brunette named Gwen and the other a blonde whose name I don't remember at the moment, also worked there. If I'm not mistaken, I believe the daughters took over the store sometime in the '90s. I'm saddened to hear of its closing. When I worked there, the old Wade Hampton Hotel was still on the corner of Assembly and Gervais, those huge 10-story-tall street lights ran down Main Street, and I used to hang out after work at little place around the corner called Our Place.

    Nobody who worked there when I was hired knew anything about comic books. During my year or so there, I made sure the Marvels were all together on the top rack, all the DCs were together on the middle rack, and all the Archies and other non-superhero "funny books" were on the bottom. I also gave a lot of attention to the science fiction section and, to the best of my ability, tried to organize the books either by author or subgenre (a Star Trek/Star Wars subsection, a Heinlein/Asimov/Bradbury "classics" subsection, etc.). I took a lot of pride in my work there, even at minimum wage.

    I remember the "No Reading" rule quite well. It didn't apply to people casually browsing through magazines; it applied to folks who would find a book and stand there for literally their entire lunch hour reading it. The poster above was correct: it was a small store with no seating and lots of folks coming in and out. The place was a news-STAND, for goodness sake... not a library.

    The Rita Jenrette Playboy issue, Pam Parsons Sports Illustrated issue and "REAGON SHOT" newspaper headlines all came out during my year there. The chaos of so many people wanting to get their hands on a copy of what we would now think of as a limited-edition commodity (i.e., a finite number of copies of the issue) was so remarkable, I still clearly remember each of those three days, now some thirty years later.

    The "other" downtown location was about three blocks north on Hampton Street. The Hampton Street location closed and moved to St. Andrews Road, sometime in the mid-'80s, I believe. My brother worked at the St. Andrews location for a couple years during the same time.

    My time at the Capitol Newsstand was only for just over a year, but I have many fond memories of the job, the Huttos and the many nice folks I met there.

    Eric L. Watts

    22 Jan 12 at 10:54 pm

  12. I recall Capitol Newstand being in the Shoppes at St. Andrews (655 St. Andrews Road) but I am not sure if it's adjacent to Tripp's Fine Cleaners or around where Inakaya is now.


    23 Jan 12 at 12:25 am

  13. The Shoppes at St. Andrews location was, as I recall, in the storefront next to Inakaya. I believe it was a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant in recent years. I grew up within two miles of that location in the '70s and '80s, but don't have much occasion to travel out there these days.

    59 Ford Wheelman

    23 Jan 12 at 7:11 am

  14. I went to the St. Andrews location during break for my EIT exam. years later, i was quite dispappointed that it wasn't there when I took my PE exam.


    23 Jan 12 at 7:50 am

  15. Eric,
    You probably saw me a lot! I was at USC from '81 to '85 and dormed at the Wade Hampton. I was into British Cars then (still am) and it was the only place around to buy Thoroughbred & Classic Cars, Hemmings Motor News, etc.

    That area was a real dive back then... A Salvation Army flop house, gay bar, porn theater, multiple pawn shops, etc. were all right by the Wade Hampton. There was a bar called Wendy's by the Newstand where we would sometimes stop for a beer after class (drinking age for beer and wine was 18 then).

    It makes me sad to think that the Capital Newstand has closed.

    Bill H

    27 Oct 12 at 7:49 pm

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