Newsstands as these highly individual, cluttered points of information in a personal dialogue with the street have almost totally disappeared from New York City. A huge reason was the raising of annual vendor fees from the hundreds to the thousands in the 1990s, and the replacing of the old booths that reflected the characters who maintained them with new, uniform glass, and metal boxes. One of these old newsstands was Petrella’s Point run by Adam Petrella for 30 years at Bowery and Canal Street, and although it was removed in 2004, this past weekend an artist-run newsstand popped-up to bring back its spirit.
Called Petrella’s Imports and created by artists Anne Libby, Elise Mcmahon, and Sophie Stone in a tribute to the former Chinatown newsstand, the booth is overflowing with artists’ zines, journals, books, and even standard newsstand stock like bottled water, snacks, and cigarette lighters, although all with an artsy twist. Petrella himself was something of an artist, painting his own newsstand a rich red and lettering it with the declaration “Tourists Welcome,” a local directory, and helpful arrows pointing to subway entrances and nearby streets and locations. He also was fond of sketching Marilyn Monroe and Bruce Lee, and would decorate his newsstand with these drawings and give them away to customers.
There is a total difference, though, in what Petrella’s Imports is offering in comparison to a newsstand. Instead of information about the day’s events or pop culture, you get meditations on creation, frenetic zines, and vividly illustrated art journals. These include works from local publishing groups like Peradam and Half Letter Press, and journals like Riot of Perfume and Art Blog Art Blog. There’s also Paul Moreno and Charlie Welch’s Knowsgay, Clement Valla‘s postcards sourced from Google Earth images of bridges, Cynthia Talmadge’s coffee mugs of rehabs, and snacks made by the restaurant Crimson Sparrow. “The inventory is reflective of items traditionally sold at newsstands, but all are produced by artists,” explained co-creator Anne Libby. To get permission for the newsstand, the artists worked with a lease holder to undertake the project and define it outside of constraints. “Public space is an ongoing means for exhibiting art,” Libby stated. “In this case, the public space is not sanctioned or institutionally directed.”
Sure, you might not learn the current state of the economy, but you can learn a lot about the current interest in print expression. And as print wanes from news media, who knows, maybe the art press is the way of the newsstand future. Petrella himself passed away in 2006 at 85 years old, and nothing much remains of his decades at the busy hub by the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge except his memory, which for a few weeks Petrella’s Imports will be attempting to revive with their installation of art.
Petrella’s Imports is open Thursday to Sunday, 12–5:30 pm through June 30 at Bowery and Canal in Chinatown.