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Get your paper here! Life lessons at the Times

Allyn Harvey

There were about 15 or 20 kids in line already that first Thursday I showed up at The Aspen Times. Some of them I knew and liked. Some I knew and hated. Some I didn’t know at all.It was Aspen, circa 1973. I was 9 1/2. I think it was the end of the school year, and I was just finishing Mr. Baxter’s fourth-grade class at the Upper Elementary School, now the Red Brick Arts Center. My mom or dad told me I had to go to the Times and try my hand at selling newspapers.I was kind of afraid and didn’t say anything to anyone. I just waited near the front door of Carl’s Pharmacy until the line started moving. When it moved, I moved and was very quickly standing alone in the doorway of the newspaper, in front of some lady who seemed as old as the earth and who was asking me how many papers I wanted. Someone along the way had explained to me how it works. The papers cost 20 cents apiece – except us kids got them on Thursdays for 10 cents each. We would then run around town and sell them at face value, or better if the customer was feeling generous.Twenty please, I told that lady, and handed her $2. She seemed as big and scary a grownup as I’d ever encountered, and between her glare and the 15 or 20 kids waiting impatiently behind me, I was feeling pressed. Fortunately, I’d been practicing the exchange in my head the entire time I was in line so I wouldn’t mess up in front of everybody. Two or three or four dozen kids from the elementary and middle schools would buy papers on Thursday afternoons and scatter across town, to the supermarkets, to various office buildings and to critical street corners to sell The Aspen Times to whoever wanted a copy. I’m not sure how long the tradition had been going on, but I suspect from sometime around the time Bil Dunaway took over the paper, 1957 or 1958. By the time I showed up for my stint in newspaper distribution, the practice was a tradition that what seemed like the entire population of Aspen anticipated.Everyone wanted a paper. A lot of days I couldn’t get more than two blocks before selling all 20 or 40 copies I bought to start. Most people would have a quarter ready for me when I pulled the top paper off my stack. They’d say keep the change. If I was lucky, they’d give me 35 or 50 cents, and occasionally someone would give me a whole buck for just one paper.I’d run back to the Main Street office of the Times (eventually, after Dunaway bought a new press, we collected our papers at the pressroom down by Clark’s Market) and buy another stack of 20 or 40 or, as I got bigger and stronger, 60. Then I’d run off to the office building my dad worked in or wherever else I thought I could sell the most papers. Success meant beating other kids to the prime spots, so it required hustle, strategy and most of all a willingness to outrun and outsell your friends and enemies. We learned about enterprise and money management. My youngest sister Brooke found that she could sell her papers fairly quickly, coming straight from swimming practice, her hair green from chlorine and wearing her one-piece Speedo. She’d just walk around town eating a Popsicle, carrying her papers in the canvas bags specially designed for kids selling newspapers, until she ran out of papers. Then she’d go do something else.My friend Jackie said for a few years it seemed the only time she got along with her sister was when they were selling The Aspen Times on Thursdays. They’d pool their money and come up with a strategy for selling papers that day. Together, they could get more papers up Mill Street from the pressroom and into the heart of town, where grownups eagerly awaited their weekly fix of news. My friend Tony remembers getting bored with the whole venture fairly quickly, and giving away or throwing away however much was left of his stack. He says he learned he probably wasn’t going to be a salesman. And today, as a 40-something local, he’s not in sales.The advent of free newspapers in the valley has been a great thing. A whole lot of locals still read The Aspen Times, every day now instead of every week.Sometimes change isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.Allyn Harvey has moved up the ranks at The Aspen Times. He’s now managing editor.


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