After 28 years of selling newspapers directly to Sunset customers on weekend mornings, Daniel and Eric Louie are retiring from the news hawker game this weekend.
For Eric, a weekend job he stumbled into while selling candy in fifth grade helped fuel a desire to become a journalist. Daniel, his father, has shaken hands with local politicos, met thousands of his neighbors and become what he calls “the mayor of Irving Street.”
In 1987, then 10-year-old Eric approached an agreeable news vendor outside Uncle Benny’s Doughnut Shop to ask if he could share the spot to sell school candy. “When the [newspaper delivery] driver came by, he asked, ‘you can sell candy, can you sell papers?’ and I said, ‘yeah, I can do it,’” Eric told us.
Eric showed up the next Saturday and started working. Once a crime reporter in Stockton, Eric now owns a home in San Leandro where he works as a video news cameraman and caterer, but he’s been coming back on weekends over the last year to spend more time with his father. Daniel took over the business when Eric graduated from high school.
After that, Daniel would sell one pile of papers from Irving & 22nd on Saturdays and started a second corner outside a KFC at Irving & 20th on Sundays. At their peak, the father-and-son team sold about 100 copies of a combined early edition of the Chronicle/Examiner each day, enough to create an improvised chair.
Now, “my dad brings a seat, but I’m used to not having one,” said Eric. An average Saturday now consists of 18-20 sales, while Eric stands or leans against the facade of the donut shop.
In 1987, Eric said there were multiple news vendors between 9th and 19th along the commercial strips on Irving and Judah. “It used to be that on Sundays, this was a very quiet, seemingly remote location and there was really no activity,” said Daniel. “Now, there are a lot of people conducting commerce on Sundays.” With the arrival of Walgreens, Starbucks and other corporate retailers, there’s “a loss of local, historical or traditional neighborhood flavors,” he said.
“On Sundays, there’d be no cars parked here and all the businesses would be closed,” said Eric, who noted that a large influx of Asian-American residents in the 1980s changed the area’s character. He described a childhood incident in which a neighbor threatened to call police because someone lit fireworks to celebrate Chinese New Year. “Now, the cops will escort the lion dancers as they blow up firecrackers,” said Eric.
Many factors have combined to erode street newspaper sales, such as a shift to digital content and a gradual decline in the number of elderly customers. “A lot of the older folks want something in hand to read,” said Daniel. “They haven’t become accustomed to reading online because they don’t have access or they’re not attuned to using a computer.” After the Chronicle started selling to local convenience stores, grocery stores and supermarkets, news hawkers took a big hit, Daniel said. “People would do one-stop shopping, plus they felt newspapers were being sold at a discount.”
Both Louies said they enjoy the strong social aspect of selling papers, but “it’s a good decision at this time, just to move on to different things,” said Daniel as Eric nodded in agreement. “It’s good money when you’re 10 years old,” said Eric, “and I have to say, for a little bit, it was more profitable to sell newspapers than write newspapers.”
Daniel and Eric Louie will sell their final editions of the Sunday Chronicle on January 18th, and have invited customers and well-wishers to say their goodbyes on Saturday morning. If you’d like to be one of the Louies’ final customers, you’ll find them outside Benny’s Doughnuts at 2049 Irving St, starting at 8am.