That’s a newsstand in 1903, looking very much as they did in 1970 and not all that much different than they do today. Over the years, more and more items for sale other than newspapers and magazines have been added, to the point where the majority of items at most newsstands today are not news. But what I find fascinating about this 117-year-old photo is how much has not changed.
That huge spread of periodicals shows the number near its peak. In a few years, the brutal circulation wars between daily papers would lead to mergers and fewer titles. As the peak of immigration passed in the 1920s, the popularity of foreign-language papers declined as well. High-end magazines, such as the collection on the bottom right, stayed popular for a long time. The display method has not changed at all: items that will catch the eye, including magazines with color covers, are spread out so that they can be seen fully, while papers are in piles: papers are less likely to be impulse buys than magazines, so they don’t need to be displayed as prominently.
The location of a newsstand at the stairs leading to an elevated train is intentional, of course, to catch people looking to buy train reading material and those looking to buy something when heading to work or home. To this day, the easiest way to find a newsstand in New York is to look for a subway station. This one is less formal than they are now: rather than an actual kiosk, it appears to be a table with a high back. It’s hard to tell because literally every inch is covered by papers and magazines.
The staircase itself, even though built of wrought iron, is in the weird pseudo-chalet style that was used for the el stations. It has ads plastered on its underside (Malta-Vita cereal, “The Perfect Food for Brain and Muscle”, “tastes good because it is good”) for people in the street, suspended over the stairs (Knox’s Gelatine “Changes a prosy dinner into a poem.”) for people going up and down, and at the wind-break partitions at the bottom of the stair (Floradora Cigars and Hunter Baltimore Rye) for people on the street. We think of our era as being overly saturated with ads – and it is – but pictures like this suggest that the past wasn’t necessarily better. Without internet ads, TV ads, or radio ads, people put posters and placards like these everywhere.