The door of the Parkville Newsstand opens, and out of the drizzly, cold winter night a miniature fur ball called Gizmo darts inside. About 4 feet of dog leash later, the ample girth of Will Klug appears.
Bob Daniels, the stand's owner, barely looks up. "Hi ya, Will," he says.
It's not indifference. It's 6:45. That's when Will Klug shows up every evening to play his scratch 'n' win lottery tickets (in Will's case scratch 'n' lose), drop quarters into the draw poker machine and talk with whomever happens to be around.
He lumbers down the red carpet runner, ties Gizmo's leash to the handle of the soft drink cooler and begins his evening routine.
Will Klug is a regular at the Parkville Newsstand -- from way back. Ask him how long he's been coming and you'll get an interesting response: " 'Bout four owners."
He can't tell you exactly how many years, he just knows there have been four proprietors since he began stopping by.
The newsstand has been part of the community for nearly 50 years. The present version -- a 15- by 20-foot blue wooden shack -- is on Harford Road a bit north of Taylor Avenue, where it stands like a sentry in front of Parkville's only metered parking lot.
Newsstands like this one are almost extinct, victims of changing lifestyles and economics. Only three remain in the area, said Pete VanPoppel, operations manager of Maryland News, a wholesale distributor for magazines in Baltimore. And the Parkville operation -- in the tradition of Manhattan's famous news kiosks -- is the only free-standing newsstand, he said.
In addition to selling local and out-of-town newspapers, magazines and lottery tickets, the Parkville Newsstand is a community meeting place. Elderly people who can't get around much drop off small appliances for Frank the Repairman to pick up. Neighbors leave messages for one another.
"It's become an institution in this community," says William Bissell, president of the Parkville Professional and Business Association.
For locals like Will Klug and others, it's a safe and familiar haven away from home.
"This place is like an old shoe for many of the customers," says Bob Daniels, who bought the newsstand three years ago. "It may look worn and a bit tattered, but the place feels comfortable and familiar to them."
The ceiling is an indeterminate shade of olive, discolored by years of cigarette smoke. The walls are mostly dirty beige. The magazine shelves date from the 1950s. Walls and counter space are cluttered with odds and ends for sale. The whole newsstand is smaller than his own bedroom, Mr. Daniels notes.
Shortly after Mr. Daniels and his wife, Joan, bought the place, they announced plans to remodel it. "The regulars wouldn't stand for it," Mr. Daniels says. So except for minor cosmetic changes -- some red and white wallpaper on one wall -- the stand looks much like it has for decades.
The newsstand actually opened in 1947 in a small frame building down the street, wedged between the Parkville Bank and the Parkville Pharmacy. It was known then as Jack and Van's. Jack Horn -- Mr. Jack to the community -- was the blind man who owned the shop. Van was his German shepherd seeing-eye dog.
According to old-timers, Mr. Jack kept a brass dish on the counter. People deposited their money and took their change from the dish on the honor system. Van would lie on the floor keeping one eye on the door, the other on the dish.
"On one hand, you knew Van couldn't count change, but on the other hand, with that stare of his, somehow you couldn't be too sure," Mr. Klug says.
And if a customer took a paper and tried to leave without paying, old Van would growl an alert, according to local historian Terry Lee Moore.
When Jack's original shack was torn down with the Parkville Bank in 1958, community groups got together to build him a new stand at the present location. "The people felt sorry for Mr. Jack and wanted to keep him in business," Mr. Moore says.
When Van died shortly afterward, the community bought him a new Seeing Eye Dog, which he named Van.
Newsstands were common neighborhood anchors in those days, according to Mr. VanPoppel. "The heyday of the newsstands was really during the 1940s and 1950s," he says.
Before state-run lotteries and off-track betting, horseplayers would descend on newsstands for the Morning Telegraph or Racing Form. Some stands had their own bookie operations going, he added. And before street corner boxes appeared, many readers bought their newspapers from newsstands all over the city.
But as people moved to the suburbs and the pace of life grew faster, newsstands dwindled. Newspaper publishers began relying more on corner news boxes. The 7-Eleven's and other convenience stores that sprouted to serve a mobile generation stocked their own magazines and newspapers. Most large shopping centers and malls have stores that sell periodicals, and new office buildings frequently have their own concessionaires.