Nestled behind the cluttered counter of Murray Avenue Newsstand is Marc Haber. But he is not there for long. Ambling between boxes of flip flops and reminiscing about past placement of arcade games is how a visit with the Greenfield resident and store owner goes.
One minute the sexagenarian is probing Pittsburgh Pirates hats with a patron, the next he is wiping dust off of the lids of antiquated board games plucked from a 10-foot high shelf.
The irony of Haber’s sitzfleisch is that he has been at the same job in the same location for 37 years. At the age of 25, the East Ender acquired the newsstand from Eddie Millstone, who operated there for 31 years.
“Eddie could have sold it for more money to someone else,” explained Haber, 62, resituating himself near a nook just shy of the cigarettes. “But it was more important to him to keep it going than making an extra $5,000.”
Murray Avenue Newsstand, a site where trinkets now outnumber periodicals, is slated to close April 30.
“This is a great loss for the community,” said Jeffrey Krasnow, 62, of Squirrel Hill. “I have been coming here for 40 years, even before Marc was here.”
In kibitzing with Haber, Krasnow was one of several supporters to stop in and say goodbye.
After parking her metal basket beneath wool winter hats hanging from a string, Joyce Penrose, 80, recalled how her now 44-year-old son used to frequent the venue more than three decades ago. The newsstand was one of the few places the then 9-year-old boy was permitted to venture unattended.
“It was such a safe place,” said Penrose. “Marc used to keep an eye on the kids.”
“People grew up in here,” Haber added as he drifted by a bunch of blue University of Pittsburgh scarves. But before the recollections could continue, a potential purchaser inquired if any toothbrushes were available (there weren’t) and another regular asked Haber about the Penguins’ prospects for playoff success.
While standing just feet from a slew of Starting Lineup figurines, Haber said, “I’ll miss the place.”
And like lengthy aisles, the memories stretch back.
“I grew up near Minedeo. I went to Allderdice. I even came in here as a kid,” said the soon-to-be retiree.
On walks up “the Avenue,” he would purchase a piece of pizza at Mineo’s for 15 cents, then stop in Eddie’s for a candy bar.
Sugary sweets are still sold at the newsstand, along with an array of other objects including Rummikub sets, adjustable roller skates and a reindeer necktie.
“There’s a customer for everything,” explained the retailer, who recently returned newer magazines to their publishers. (No worries, a June 1952 copy of Popular Mechanics was still on the shelf as of last week.)
Over the decades, Haber repositioned himself and his store as commerce dictated. When Sunday newspaper sales shifted from 1,000 a day to between 30 and 40, he found other materials to peddle. Whether they were slap bracelets, baseball cards or Transformers, Haber followed the trends and provided buyers with what was desired.
None of the wares were particularly “unusual,” they were just what people wanted, he explained.
Flickers of those fads still abounded, as a wrapped set of Super Bowl XXV limited edition cards rested adjacent to vuvuzelas.
Within earshot of Haber, who had retreated to the back of the cavernous repository, were the smatterings of those who in wishing the white-haired salesmen well decried the procuring patterns of “millennials” and other online shoppers.
“If they would have patronized him more maybe he wouldn’t be closing,” suggested a visitor who wished to remain nameless.
“Business isn’t what it used to be,” acknowledged Haber, who attributed declining sales, incremental rent raisings and the fact that he “will be 63 in November,” as reasons for cessation.
But there was no ill-will exhibited by the dealer, even against someone who asked whether prices will drop as the end of the month approaches.
“What I’ll miss most are the people,” the merchant said. “I made a lot of friends here.
“You don’t do something for 37 years and not like it…I enjoyed it and I just want to thank everybody for keeping it going.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.