We’ll Always Have Paras
A personal salute to America’s finest newsstand
As a kid I loved watching The Name of the Game, the smart, hip NBC television drama set in the world of magazine publishing. My favorite character was Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa), a charismatic investigative reporter for People magazine. Part Sam Spade, part Errol Flynn and part Max Miller (I Cover the Waterfront), Dillon was both a tough guy and a ladies’ man who lived on the edge. But he always got the bad guys and somehow redeemed himself by the end of every show.
Watching the series, I developed a passion for journalism, especially magazines. At the ripe age of 12 I started reading everything from Sports Illustrated to Life to Boys’ Life to Rolling Stone to Playboy (when I could sneak a peek). When I moved here in 1984 to attend San Diego State, my love for the printed word was reignited after I joined the staff of the college magazine (Monty) and newspaper (Daily Aztec) and visited a little hole-in-the-wall on the corner of 30th and University called Paras News.
Our city’s seminal newsstand, which has stood on the same bustling North Park corner since 1949, Paras is filled with colorful characters, from wealthy yuppie types to literate homeless. First time I walked in, I thought to myself, “This is a place where Jeff Dillon would hang out.”
Paras boasts the best selection of periodicals anywhere. It’s where I first discovered Spy magazine, my favorite magazine of them all. Years ahead of its time, Spy, edited by Graydon Carter (now editor at Vanity Fair), combined the cynical satire of National Lampoon with the investigative prowess of The New York Times. It sometimes got a bit too snarky and mean, but it was always intelligent, creative and funny.
That newsstand was also my entry into a whole new world of obscure literary, academic and political journals, ’zines, comic books, sports weeklies, foreign publications, travel magazines, music publications and more. Paras has newspapers, too, from dozens of cities around the country and the world, and a variety of books.
Paras isn’t just about periodicals. It’s about people. It’s a friendly, Cheers-like place where everybody knows your name. And I guess you could say I’ve played the Norm character there for a long time. Not quite so chubby or fatalistic as Cheers’ Norm, perhaps, but definitely as loyal. I even squeezed a mention of Paras into a Rolling Stone piece I wrote 20-some years ago about what was hot at the time in San Diego.
Paras has the look and feel of a place that will be with us forever and outlast every trend. But it faces the very real possibility of extinction. The newsstand has very narrowly avoided going out of business several times in recent years as more people turn to the Web and fewer folks buy magazines and newspapers. It now sells food, lottery tickets, candy, cigarettes and other stuff just to stay afloat. Magazines and newspapers alone can no longer sustain the place. It’s a sad sign of the times.
Yet Paras is valiantly hanging on. The presidential election helped. People were coming in to buy anything with President Obama’s face on the cover. But in this age of bloggers and iPads, keeping the place open in the long run is going to take a concerted effort by all who cherish the printed page.
As Rick (Humphrey Bogart) might have said to Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) if Casablanca had been set instead in San Diego, “We’ll always have Paras.”