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'Just Such A Landmark': Customers Lament Closing of Harvard Square's Out Of Town News05:09
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Business was bustling during the lunchtime rush at Out of Town News. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Business was bustling during the lunchtime rush at Out of Town News. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

There's a squat little building in the middle of Harvard Square in Cambridge. It's dwarfed by the stately brick structures of that Ivy League school across the street. It looks like a simple newsstand. But it's an icon.

Inside, it feels as if you've stepped into a newsstand in Madrid, or Mumbai or the Middle East, depending on which shelf you're looking at.

The cramped little shop is called Out of Town News. The business was first housed next door. Over almost 65 years, it became a kind of mecca for international students, immigrants and visitors who wanted a newspaper from home.

Out of Town News was in the heart of Harvard Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Out of Town News was in the heart of Harvard Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Thursday, Out of Town News will close — officially and permanently, although it's already gone dark. When we stopped by earlier this month, the shelves that Mohammad Rahman had stocked with broadsheets and tabloids, hobby journals and high-brow magazines were already nearly bare.

"This is for the Middle East section over here ... It was all full," Rahman said, pointing to the almost-empty shelves. "And this one for the Spanish ... all gone."

Rahman doesn't own the shop, but he's presided over it like a proud papa six days a week for 22 years. And there was a lot to look after. At one point, he said, he counted 2,500 magazine titles in stock.

Mohammad Rahman unpacks some magazines to be restocked on the shelves. He worked at Out of Town News for 22 years. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Mohammad Rahman unpacks some magazines to be restocked on the shelves. He worked at Out of Town News for 22 years. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The closure of Out of Town News has hit customers hard.

"It's, like, so sad," said Harvard Ph.D. candidate Mary McNeil. "This is, like, just such a landmark, you know? And it being gone, the space ... it won't feel the same."

McNeil wasn't there for a newspaper. She was buying cigarettes. The customer before her wanted a phone charger.

Dima Papusha and Dima Sitnikov, tourists from Russia, were looking for something that said Harvard on it.

"One of our friends wanted to have some souvenir or something, so we found this place," Papusha said.

Dima Papusha, from Russia, purchases a magazine at the Out of Town News counter. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Dima Papusha, from Russia, purchases a magazine at the Out of Town News counter. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Yoga teacher Diana Feik has been a regular at Out of Town News since she came to the U.S. nine years ago.

"Well, I come usually for my German magazines. I'm from Germany," Feik said. "But there's none left because they're closing, right? So I get the Halloween magazines for my kids."

Feik was one of the only customers we saw buying something to read.

Diana Feik flips through the Halloween edition of Better Homes and Gardens at Out of Town News. (Jesse Costs/WBUR)
Diana Feik flips through the Halloween edition of Better Homes and Gardens at Out of Town News. (Jesse Costs/WBUR)

Rahman said, as of late, the store sold more sweatshirts and mugs than papers. People have been reading their favorite newspapers and magazines on their phones, instead of in print.

Rahman had seen a lot of change in his two decades here. And he's rolled with it.

"I like it. This my place my home ...  like this is my store," he said.

Rahman said what he will remember most about Out of Town News is seeing "a lot of different faces ... lot of good people."

And he was a good vendor. He recently visited the United Kingdom and brought back a London Times newspaper for one of his regular customers because the kiosk had stopped carrying it.

He was never robbed. When he spotted someone trying to shoplift, he told them never to come back to the store. He liked to keep things cordial and professional.

During our visit, he greeted everyone with, "How are you today?" and told them to have a nice day.

A woman looks at the cover of the New York Daily News outside the newsstand, which once was brimming with publications. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A woman looks at the cover of the New York Daily News outside the newsstand, which once was brimming with publications. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The City of Cambridge owns the property Out of Town News occupied. And it's the city that decided the store had to shut down. It's part of a of the Harvard Square plaza.

For now, a nonprofit will temporarily take over the space and hold pop-up arts and discussion events.

The city will solicit bids from potential operators to turn the building into a community gathering space and visitors center. The structure itself is protected on the National Register of Historic Places — it was originally the entrance to the subway station.

But when you spend a little time there, you realize it's the people who've worked and shopped in the building who've made it the landmark it is today.

The original Out of Town newsstand positioned next to the MTA Harvard Square station kiosk in 1955. (Courtesy Cambridge Historical Commission)
The original Out of Town newsstand positioned next to the MTA Harvard Square station kiosk in 1955. (Courtesy Cambridge Historical Commission)

Customer Hector Morales said it has been more than a place to buy some smokes and a paper.

"These people are very great people, and I come to the store every day," Morales says. "And we are going to miss them, very bad."

Asked how he felt when he heard customers say things like that, Rahman said, "I feel very bad, and sometimes I feel cry."

Rahman said he isn't worried about getting another job. But he knows there'll never be another one like the job he's had at the landmark little kiosk in Harvard Square.

The island in the center of Harvard Square is named for Sheldon Cohen, the founder of Out of Town News. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The island in the center of Harvard Square is named for Sheldon Cohen, the founder of Out of Town News. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This segment aired on October 30, 2019.

Lynn Jolicoeur Twitter Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.

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Lisa Mullins Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.

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