Evolution of the newsstand: Mags and Fags finds new niche amid rebranding

For 35 years, Elgin Street newsstand Mags and Fags had a memorable name that described exactly what the store sold.

By Jacob Serebrin

But after the store stopped selling cigarettes in February, owners Charlene and Christa Blaszczyk say the business went through an “existential crisis.”

This week they announced they’d be changing its name to The Gifted Type, branding that they say better reflects what their store sells and the direction they want to take it.

When the two sisters took over the store 10 years ago, cigarettes and other tobacco products accounted for about 50 per cent of sales, says Charlene Blaszczyk. Newspapers and magazines made up the rest since, at that point, the store didn’t sell much else.

That has changed.

“The cigarettes were sliding, year after year, and we had to fill the void in sales with something else and we thought cards and gifts were a great complement to the existing magazine business,” Ms. Blaszczyk says.

Even though readers are consuming more and more content online, the retailers say the other half of their business hasn’t been hit as hard.

“Magazines are still our largest category, and that’s why we remain committed to print,” Ms. Blaszczyk says.

She says hard-to-find magazines and imported titles, in particular, have remained big sellers.

That niche focus is something the store has had from the beginning.

“Even in our tobacco business, in its heyday, we would have premium product and hard-to-find product, so there was always a reason to come to us,” she says. “We’re trying to do that with our cards and gifts as well.”

Cards and gifts appeal to a wider audience than magazines and cigarettes, Ms. Blaszczyk says. They also have a higher margin than magazines, though she says she can’t reveal percentages due to confidentiality agreements with suppliers.

Ms. Blaszczyk says she and her sister want to move more of their business online, a step that’s been hindered by the word “fags” in the store’s name. While many people recognize it as British slang for cigarettes, it has caused the name to be blocked by spam filters.

“If we want to be around for the next 35 years, we have to make the leap,” she says of the name change.

The focus on hard-to-find and imported magazines has created an opportunity to sell magazines over the internet. Ms. Blaszczyk says the store has customers from Toronto to British Columbia who are looking for single copies of magazines that are expensive to import one at a time.

“If you’re trying to import them yourself, you might end up spending $40 per magazine, but we might be able to send it to you for $20 all in,” she says.

With the decline of newsstands, Ms. Blaszczyk says it’s a growing opportunity. In particular, there’s growing interest in a new wave of magazines that are printed on higher-quality paper and have fewer ads.

“We’re seeing a lot of younger people coming in and picking up magazines,” she says. “There’s a lot of interesting content and super high quality and it’s more of a collectable.”

For the sisters, who started working at the store as students before taking it over, changing the name wasn’t an easy decision.

“We didn’t make this decision lightly, that’s for sure,” Ms. Blaszczyk says. “It’s been a process of adapting and evolving to the changes in the industry – both tobacco and print – and we really feel like it’s not the death of another newsstand, it is the evolution of one.”