Old Town News Closes

Old Town News Closes

Another lost King Street landmark

Another Alexandria business closed its doors this past week. Old Town News, 721 King St., is now just another vacant store front.

After 14 years of offering books, magazines and an array of newspapers from as far away as London, the economics of operating such a business apparently made it a losing proposition. "The lease was up and it wasn't providing the cash flow needed to keep it open," said Mark Jackson, manager, Book & Card, Falls Church, which is also owned by Kathleen Eckstein, owner of Old Town News.

It had been a newsstand/art store when Harry Eckstein purchased the business in 1990. Upon his death in 1992, his wife, Kathleen, assumed control, according to Jackson.

"In September/October of 1999 there was a sudden and severe drop in business at newsstand-type stores throughout the entire region. Nobody can figure out what happened at that time," Jackson said.

"It was not gradual. It just happened in that eight-week period. News stands all over the area have either gone out of business or have drastically reduced their outlets," he said.

IN ADDITION to Old Town News and Card & Book, Eckstein also owns Sully Plaza News in Chantilly. She resides in Ocean City, Md., according to Old Town News' last employee, Ted White.

"Our business has been off 50 percent this summer. Two of our magazine suppliers cut us off this spring," White said.

"We don't need to hold a going out-of-business sale because all the magazines are on consignment. We only pay the distributor for what is actually sold," he said. Last Wednesday afternoon there was a stack of containers in the store filled with unsold magazines waiting to be retrieved by one of the store's suppliers.

"We've been operating on a month-to-month lease for some time due to the decline in business," Jackson said. "When the landlord wanted another long-term lease, Kathleen decided rather than do that, given the business climate, she'd just close up."

There were never more than a couple of full time employees at any time, according to Jackson. "That's the nature of the business. Most sales are made during the day. It was only open at night as a convenience. There were a lot of part-time employees that came and went," he said.

White joined Old Town News in July 2002 as a full-time day employee. "The manager that was here when I came left last summer," he said.

A PUBLISHED AUTHOR with approximately 18 science fiction books to his credit, White said, "I may go back to writing." He also served as editor of "Amazing Stories," for 10 years. Founded in 1926, it is one of the oldest science-fiction magazines.

Presently, there is a "For Lease" sign on the window listing Vanguard, a Maryland-based realty company.