For a few hours each weekday morning, Ronan cracks open the padlock on his forest green wooden newsstand on Division Street between Milwaukee and Ashland, maintaining an urban tradition that has almost completely disappeared. Hailing from a family that made their living off of newsstands, Ronan now operates the newsstand for pleasure, as he makes the argument that “what else is an old blind Polack to do?” Ronan is in fact, blind. He has lost his central vision, but is still able to see people and objects peripherally. This handicap is completely undetectable, as Ronan maintains eye contact as he speaks. His eyes are a shocking neon blue. He’s been operating the newsstand for twenty years, but the newsstand itself has been around for fifty, if not longer. Ronan sells the New York Times, Crain’s, and Barron’s Investment News, but not much else. A rack of Chicago Readers and New York Times Magazines hang off the door of the newsstand, all free items meticulously organized beside a broom and a cart. Every aspect of the newsstand has a reactionary feel. The reflective strips on the door seem to suggest that at some point during the newsstand’s existence, a driver veered too close to the newsstand, knocking the door off. An analog clock, a long ago freebee from USA Today, hangs above an air conditioning unit covered in reflective orange tape. Locks in various conditions suggest multiple lifetimes of securing. Observing the newsstand closed, it resembles a ramshackle stronghold.
The interior of the newsstand is full of Ronan’s personal effects, Beanie Babies, a nest of tangled electrical cords and packages of Rice Crispy Treats. The Rice Crispy Treats are not for Ronan to eat, but to feed the pigeons that come up to window when Ronan is alone in the newsstand. They hold court vigilantly atop the tarred roof when customers approach. There are so few things to buy that the concept of customer seems odd here, as every bus driver, construction worker and Busha seem to know Ronan, but no one is buying anything. They ask how he is. They bring him Makowiec and Perogi. They chat about the weather. These casual relationships at the newsstand are small, but critical. This is why Ronan is here.
It is estimated that the City of Chicago Department of Transportation regulates fewer than 40 independent free standing newsstands like Ronan’s. They have disappeared without advocates, being of a pale vernacular that modern life has hushed, like a lost language.