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Newsstand is page from U.S. history

Once American cities were full of mom and pop newspaper shops that also sold magazines, candy, ice cream and maybe even a "number" or two, if mom and pop had the connections and a little larceny in their souls.

All it took to keep those old shops going were ample stock and a couple willing to spell each other behind the counter and keep open 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

Elliott Wood's establishment comes about as close to the old model as any can these days. But his little shop in a Largo shopping strip, 11992 Indian Rocks Road, doesn't open till 9 a.m. and wouldn't know what to do with a number, and the mom substitute is Wood's girlfriend, Tracy Messina.

What it most shockingly lacks, however, is an adequate supply of newspapers.

"The publishers are afraid of returns," Wood grouses. "They'd rather run out of papers by afternoon than pick up a few unsold copies next day."

The rising cost of newsprint has altered newsstand business. "More and more stock is non-returnable," Wood says. "Meaning I sell 'em or eat 'em."

The situation with out-of-town papers is bad and getting worse. "I can't get the Chicago Tribune or the New York Daily News at all," Wood says. "I hear some bad stuff from my customers for that.

"The Miami Herald has stopped sending copies outside certain parts of South Florida. I can't even get the Sunday Orlando Sentinel. An hour and a half away! I still get the daily, but they hold onto all that Sunday newsprint."

Wood is a Brooklyn transplant, 38 years old, educated and licensed as a teacher. Jobs were hard to find after he got his master's degree. He taught in a private school for a while. "They were going broke, and so was I," he says.

A succession of jobs showed him he didn't want to take orders, and he set up the Indian Rock News Stand four years ago. Watching the passing show, he says, is worth all the frustrations.

"Angry old Republicans who drop around to pick up financial magazines and curse Clinton. Strange birds from the bus stop outside who want to use my bathroom. I say no dice.

"There are guys who go on to the sports bar next door, a lot of them negative and angry about the Bucs and the latest athlete getting arrested.

"People who come in to use the copier machine. One old lady duplicates clips from the morning paper and glares at me as if I'm going to take them away from her."

Wood carries lots of magazines, though his best-seller list is odd. Drug-oriented High Times is the leader. Its recent tribute to Timothy Leary issue sold, if not like hot cakes, like marijuana brownies.

Stock market and business trend magazines do well. Sports Illustrated doesn't sell much, though publications devoted to sports collectors are hot items. "Where's my Beckett Football?" a customer asks peevishly. "Sold out," says Wood.

Somehow people keep buying Playboy; Penthouse, too. Wood makes customers go to the back of the store, through swinging doors _ like an old saloon _ that bear the warning, "Adult Room _ No One Under 18 Admitted."

"I expected to get Lotto when I moved in," Wood says. "When I didn't, I put in adult magazines to pay the bills. I knew adult items were a part of this business. I just never knew how big a part."

Still the biggest headaches in a newspaper store are the newspapers. "Last Sunday afternoon, people were calling me from all over the county, desperate to find a Sunday New York Times. But I'd sold out in the morning and there were no more to come."