The decline of the newspaper industry has hit Harvard Square’s most recognizable building. Out of Town News, the iconic kiosk located outside the Harvard Square T Station, has declined to renew its lease for another five years due to a major downturn in sales, according to City Manager Bob Healy.

The decline of the newspaper industry has hit Harvard Square’s most recognizable building.

Out of Town News, the iconic kiosk located outside the Harvard Square T station selling newspapers and magazines from around the world, has declined to renew its lease due to a major downturn in sales, according to City Manager Bob Healy.
The lease expires Nov. 30.

“They want out,” Healy said about Hudson News, the company currently renting the city-owned newsstand.

On Monday, city councilors discussed the future of the historic landmark. They voted to execute a short-term lease with the current lessee until the end of January at a discounted rate so Healy can work on the bid process for a new tenant.

“Having the operation cease and leave the building vacant for a portion of the winter months is undesirable,” he said of the city-owned building.

Kallol Barua, general manager of Out of Town News, said this year has been the hardest on his business. He would not confirm the closing of the newsstand, which has been around since 1955, but said it is an option on the table.

“Nobody buys newspapers anymore,” he said. “People are reading everything online mostly.”

Barua said the kiosk suffered most when Harvard Square was undergoing major renovations, closing off lanes, and making it hard for drivers to pull over and park without getting a ticket.

“The construction killed everybody,” he said. “We lost a lot of customers.”

Barua said they tried everything to save the business, including extending their hours. Other obstacles included thieves stealing bundles of magazines, and competition across the street at NiNi’s Corner newsstand.

The matter has been referred to the City Council’s Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for further discussion.

Since the building is historic, city councilors said future use should reflect and preserve that. City Councilor Craig Kelley said the space could be used for a bike-sharing program.

In May 1998, the city dedicated the Out of Town News kiosk area “Sheldon Cohen Island” after the longtime civic leader and philanthropist who began selling papers there in 1945 as an 11-year-old boy with his father. In 1955 Cohen founded the Out of Town News company and in 1960 founded the Out of Town Ticket Agency.

Barua said the historic building still needs a lot of work, such as fixing a leaking roof; replacing certain doors and windows; and repairing the electrical system and air conditioning.

Healy said the building has limited use, since there is no plumbing.

Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, noted that losing the iconic kiosk will affect many people who travel through the square.

“People always think of it as the heart of Harvard Square,” she said. “But I’ve known for a while that it has been a difficult business to have there.”

Many people in Harvard Square were shocked to hear the news.

“This place has been here in Harvard Square ever since I can remember,” said Chris Christoforides as he exited the kiosk. “We’ve known it for a long time and it’s going to be sad to see it go.”

Harvard student Meg Rush said she frequents Out of Town News before she rides the T.

“It would be kind of sad not to be able to pick up my little glossy fix here,” she said.

Jillson said she is looking forward to future use of the space.

“I welcome any new and exciting business,” she said. “But you want to be respectful and find something that will celebrate that space for the next 50 years.”

Cambridge Chronicle