Chronicle drops newspaper ‘hawkers’ after 27 years

At age ten, Eric Louie would stand on the corner selling newspapers, ride around in rickety Chronicle trucks and form a bond with the Sunset district that would last 27 years.

It started in 1987 — in front of Uncle Benny’s Doughnuts at 22nd Ave. and Irving St. — where Louie sold candy to raise money for nearby Jefferson Elementary School. Louie told SFBay that one day, someone offered him a job selling papers:

“He said, ‘Chuck sells papers down the block and we’re looking for somebody to fill this [spot in front of Benny’s Doughnuts], if you can show up next week you got the job.’ And that’s how it all started.”

In 1999, as Louie began to study journalism at San Francisco State, his father Daniel, a retired financial analyst for the federal government, stepped in and took over his corner.

But this weekend, the father-son team will hawk their final Sunday Chronicle after receiving notice from the newspaper last month that their selling would be terminated, bringing an end to a long-time partnership.

Michael Cohen, Vice President of Circulation for the Chronicle, told SFBay:

“We terminated the agreements with our hawker contractors, as we believe that expanding our customer reach can be done more effectively through other channels.”

The Chronicle declined to provide specifics on number of contractors being let go.

Photos by Jesse Garnier/SFBay

Over the years Eric, now 37, and his father, 65, have seen everything from street fights to Eric being robbed of his Walkman and $10 roll of quarters. Through all of it, the Louies have grown closer with the Sunset community they serve, Daniel said:

“Sometimes it’s a lot of amusement and intrigue. It spurs my interest just to say ‘hey, I’d like to share some moments with people and just converse with them.'”

Locals and friends in the Irving Street area were shocked to hear of the Louies’ departure from the corner, including Angelo Mandala, USPS letter carrier who’s known the two for 25 years:

“I’ll be sad to see him go. … You don’t like to see anybody go, [and] he’s been a fixture over there in front of Uncle Benny’s Doughnuts.”

In 2007, the Louies moved from their location outside Uncle Benny’s to the corner of 20th and Irving, in front of KFC, where they will sell their final papers Sunday.

Mike Tanaka met the pair while looking for something to do while his 10-year-old son had violin practice down the street. Tanaka, who has known the Louies for four years, said:

“I’m gonna miss seeing him every Sunday. … It’s something that I look forward to.”

After selling thousands of papers, Daniel believes that there is more to it than just paper and ink:

“It’s not so much about getting the newspaper but that you create a friendship with them and that’s one of the key things in this job that has kept me at this for so many years.”

Being at the front line of newspaper sales and his current work as a freelance journalist gave Eric a first-hand look at declining trends in newspaper readership:

“From selling a hundred newspapers as a kid to selling ten or fifteen, it kinda hit that maybe that guy yelling ‘extra, extra, extra’ is not the primary source for getting news out.”

Daniel too has observed downward trends in newspaper sales, particularly that a decline in sales followed each time the Chronicle raised their prices, now $3 for a Sunday Chronicle.

In September 2013, the Chronicle distributed 431,203 Sunday papers and 174,457 Saturday papers on average. By September 2014, circulation dropped to 327,000 Sunday papers and 166,671 Saturday papers on average, according to Kris Loberg, Director of Business Marketing for the Chronicle.

The drop in newspaper sales, the Louies say, has also done away with most street hawkers:

“At that time, in this immediate area, there was a guy at 26th selling papers, 25th, 22nd, 19th, in front of Andronico’s, then 9th and Irving and now between all those spots. I think this is the only one.”

Wearing his faded blue Chronicle apron for one of the final times, Daniel was reflective about his time selling newspapers:

“It’s a passing of an era, and like they say with the passing of an era, you only have fond memories of your experience. … This gives me free time and gives me a chance to delve deep in my thoughts over life.”