Prints Charming

Johnny's Newsstand gets ready for its final issue.

Once in a while, someone comes into Johnny's Newsstand who is not a regular customer. Imagine!

The Johnny of Johnny's Newsstand is Johnny Kareski, and such occurrences fascinate him. Exhibit A:

"Check this out," he says, from behind the cash register where he keeps a guitar, sheet music, his first computer (so new it smells showroom fresh) and a specific eye for detail. "Just last Tuesday a guy comes in, looks like someone's chasing him. Preoccupied. Maybe even hunted? Haunted? He tells me he just got off a train, intending to relocate, but before the train got here the DEA surrounded him and took $19,000 he had with him, in cash, which he was going to use to do this relocating, and all they left him was barely enough to get away from the train. He came in here looking for job insights in rural Colorado. Trying to lose himself, maybe? You gotta feel for a guy like that."

Have you heard the news? Johnny Kareski will soon close up shop.
John Johnston
Have you heard the news? Johnny Kareski will soon close up shop.

Even if he's lying?

"Yeah, that's just it," Johnny says, immediately seeing your point, and then raising it. "His was certainly only one side of the story. But still, losing all that cash. I told him he needed to find a lawyer. Of course, when it's cash, what can you prove?"

And what do you expect when you carry large quantities of cash on trains in the middle of the night?

"Of course," Johnny agrees. "Not smart. I sent him to a Western-wear store to get a copy of the Fencepost. Thought he could maybe find a job in the rural classifieds. Like he would blend right in, ha. He was fortysomething, balding, with a thick gold chain with a medallion, like you see on TV. What was he gonna do, the City Slickers thing, maybe?"

Any Johnny's regular would be able to take this opening and run with it -- perhaps into a discussion of What Has Become of the Western Dude Ranch? or Billy Crystal: A Retrospective. When you come in here to buy a newspaper, presenting yourself before Johnny with an open countenance and an air of having things to do in general but not much to do right at this moment, you will be drawn into conversations like these, perhaps weekly or, in the case of Johnny's wife, whom he met right here, for life.

Exhibit B: Bill, fiftyish, white hair, crisp chinos, Top-Siders, windbreaker, hand jingling the change in his pocket. Has been here, if not daily, then hundreds of times before.

"Hi, Bill," Johnny says. "How ya doin'?"

"You? No Buffalo Sports News yet?"

"Yeah, I managed to get one for you. Here you go." Johnny forks over the small tabloid, which features University of Colorado sports exclusively. That done, he begins sorting through a pile of paperwork.

"Oh, yeah!" Bill says, quickly scanning the headlines. "Way to go!" Pause. "Say, Johnny. What's that you got there?"

"Oh, hmm, Bill, it looks like a mountain-climbing calendar I got from Outside magazine. Are you into that sort of thing?"

"No, no, I don't climb mountains," Bill says, leaning onto the counter. "I take the Geographic, of course. You know what I think?"

"What's that, Bill?"

"I think those guys that climb up those mountains have a little problem with putting their life and limb in danger."

Johnny concurs. "I would rather chop wood all day and look at a pile of wood when I'm done than go to a health club and come out with a pile of nothing," he offers.

"You're right. You're right."

That wraps up Bill for the day, though certainly not for the week.

But let's say you come to Johnny's for news of the printed variety, as opposed to the oral tradition. Or suppose you prefer to lose yourself in the latest edition of Deviant Sex Orgy, American Shotgun or Black Man's Swimsuit. Your body language can make this clear, simply by following a time-honored tradition: You turn your back and disappear into what Johnny calls the "boys' corner."

"Collectively," he explains, "those magazines are known as 'sophisticates.' What 'sophisticate' means is T&A, smut and sleaze. The boys' corner is also good if you want to read about guns. Big trucks. Fishing. Golf."

And if you want to take something from the boys' corner home, you will even be offered the classic plain brown paper wrapping -- no small talk attached.

"It's a whole different feel than a Barnes & Noble," Johnny says. "Bill would rather pick up his Buffalo Sporting News than have it delivered, because he's the kind of guy who likes to be taken care of. He always gives me a bottle of vodka at Christmastime. I'm one of those service personnel you hear about."

Another thing you may be hearing about: Johnny's is closing, after fifteen years of business in a basement off Champa Street.


Very little marketing strategy was brought into play in 1985, the year Johnny's Newsstand opened for business.

"I had been an officer in the Army, done five years at CU, and I was just kicking around my cabin in the mountains," Johnny recalls. "A good friend of mine was the property manager here, and he thought this space would make a good newsstand, and it sounded okay to me. We had an idea to find a distributor, find the stuff we felt like selling, open the doors and hope like hell it worked."

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