Make us your home page
Instagram

Tampa's Hometown News Stand closing after 36 years

TAMPA

Hometown News Stand and Cigar Shop used to be the place where University of South Florida students got their news from back home.

The shop, a staple of a neighborhood near Fletcher Avenue and 15th Street, assembled newspapers and other publications from all major cities in the United States.

"Nobody carried the amount that we did," said Frank Russo, owner for more than 30 years. "At the beginning there was no competition."

When giants like Barnes & Noble and Borders cut into his business, Russo fended them off by offering more obscure publications.

Now, with a lagging economy and unbeatable competition from the Internet, Russo is closing the shop that has been his life's work for 36 years.

"I didn't think I'd be in it this long," he said.

A fourth-generation Tampa native, Russo got a job at the newsstand when his cousin opened it in 1974. Russo was 17 then. A few years later, he took over as the owner.

They aimed for the college kids, knowing that out-of-state USF students might want to read about what was going on at home.

The game changed when supermarkets and drug stores began selling newspapers and magazines, and bookstore giants did the same.

"We really had to be on our game to compete with those guys," Russo said. "We were able to wage a good battle and still win."

After a time, the big stores became his biggest advertisers, he said, when they began referring customers looking for hard-to-find titles to Hometown News Stand.

He also sold cigars.

Russo's personal connections with the family of Arturo Fuente, one of Tampa's famous cigar barons, allowed him to build a selection of Fuente cigars — still the most popular at the shop — and other hard-to-find tobacco products. He started with five brands and eventually grew the selection to over 200.

Russo became known for going out of his way to find the rarest comic books for kids or the finest cigars for eager customers. He always thanked his customers and he always meant it, he said.

Customers from all walks of life came to know Russo.

Men lined up in the parking lot when Playboy and Penthouse magazines provided models for autograph sessions.

Students from USF worked at the store. Some former employees have called in recent days, upset to hear that the business is closing.

As Russo tended to the last of his merchandise Wednesday, Deputy Chris Grecco of the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office stopped by to help pack boxes and load a pickup truck. Grecco told of the newsstand's reputation as a friendly place for law enforcement.

"Tons of deputies used to come here," he said. "In the days before cell phones, your senior officers would take you to the mom-and-pop businesses to use the phone or use the bathroom or get a glass of water."

Retired deputies were known to gather at Russo's newsstand to chat about the day's news and politics, Grecco said.

Russo is struggling to find a way to replace the living he has made for so long. He has applied for jobs in public relations and retail management. But a lot has changed in 36 years.

Applying for a job recently, he was stunned when the young interviewer asked why he was wearing a suit. Russo knew then that the job wasn't for him. "It's a different world," he said. "I don't think it's going to be an easy thing."

Dan Sullivan can be reached at dsullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

Tampa's Hometown News Stand closing after 36 years 12/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 11:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Powerball jackpot climbs to $510 million, 8th largest

    Nation

    DES MOINES, Iowa — The Powerball jackpot has climbed to an estimated $510 million, making it one of the largest in U.S. history.

    A store clerk pulls a Powerball ticket from the printer for a customer, Tuesday, in Hialeah, Fla. The Powerball jackpot has has rolled 18 times, since the June 14, drawing, resulting in an estimated $510 million for Wednesday night's drawing. [Associated Press]
  2. Why are so few Tampa Bay houses for sale? They're being rented

    Real Estate

    Oreste Mesa Jr. owns a modest 40-year-old house in West Tampa just off MacDill Avenue. It's an area where many homeowners are hearing the siren song of builders and cashing out while the market is strong.

    Attorney David Eaton poses in front of his rental home at 899 72nd Ave. North. in St. Petersburg. He's among a growing number of property owners who see more value in renting out unused homes than selling them. 
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Wanted: New businesses on Safety Harbor's Main Street

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — A green grocery store, a hardware store, restaurants, boutiques and multi-use buildings are all wanted downtown, according to discussion at a community redevelopment workshop held last week. And to bring them to the Main Street district, city commissioners, led by Mayor Joe Ayoub, gave City Manager …

    Whistle Stop Bar & Grill is one of the main stops on Main Street in Safety Harbor. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  4. Q&A: A business leader and historian jointly delve into Tampa's waterfront

    Business

    TAMPA — As a native of Tampa, Arthur Savage has always had a passion for his hometown's history. And as a third-generation owner and operator of A.R. Savage & Son, a Tampa-based shipping agency, his affinity for his hometown also extends to its local waterways.

    Arthur Savage (left) and Rodney Kite-Powell, co-authors of "Tampa Bay's Waterfront: Its History and Development," stand for a portrait with the bust of James McKay Sr. in downtown Tampa on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. McKay, who passed away in 1876, was a prominent businessman, among other things, in the Tampa area. He was Arthur Savage's great great grandfather. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Tampa's connected-vehicle program looking for volunteers

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Drivers on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway can save on their monthly toll bill by volunteering to test new technology that will warn them about potential crashes and traffic jams.

    A rendering shows how new technology available through the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority will warn driver's about crashes, traffic jams, speed decreases and more. THEA is seeking 1,600 volunteers to install the devices, which will display alerts in their review mirrors, as part of an 18-month connected-vehicle pilot.