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

Posted at 11:09 pm in landmark,stores

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 amazon.com, 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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