Remembering A Shopkeeper From the Old Downtown

When reminiscing about Huron’s old downtown, always mentioned is the newsstand and Yale LaVoo. Published in the Sandusky Register on Thursday, October 12, I972, was an interview done by Greg Stricharchuk just before the newsstand closed. Following is the interview with Yale LaVoo.” Closing After 60 Years in News, Bus Business. Mr. LaVoo, a life-long Huron citizen born in 1897, passed away August 27, I980.”

The Sunday rain splatters off of the faded green awning and onto the sidewalk. Through the window of the newsstand on North Main Street can be seen Yale LaVoo.

The muffled echo of the cold rain is heard outside the cozy shop, but the quiet old man meticulously polishes a glass display case, as he has every day for nearly 60 years.

The newsstand was first opened when Yale was 16, a sort of secret adventure that blossomed into a full-time operation. LaVoo dropped out of high school to tend to the store.

The value of a dollar was learned at an early age in those days. “Hell, I pedaled papers when I was a boy and used to fix bicycles when I was nine,” said LaVoo one afternoon.

Like some precision timepiece, Yale has continued his hardworking pace over 75 years of living. Unknown to most folks, rainy days are sunshine to LaVoo.

“Kind of a crummy day?” asks a customer, who darts in from the downpour. LaVoo pretends not to hear but cocks his ear in the man’s direction.

He finally glances up from his polishing, “ Naw, weather’s fine for business.” His tiny wire-rimmed spectacles seem to float down his nose. “Always sell more papers and magazines on rainy days.”

The dripping customer just nods and leaves. LaVoo scuttles back to his regular post, facing the cash register with his back to any customer who might walk in.

LaVoo is a master of one-word answers. Ask him a question and he slowly swivels around on his chair and wrinkles his forehead. He often ends his sentences with short laughs.

Light filters into the store through the front window. The hand-painted letters of “News Stand, Magazines” in a circular pattern attest to an age long since in passing.

In 1923 Yale hung out a Greyhound shingle and according to Ron J. Donlin, district supervisor of Greyhound Lines East, LaVoo is the oldest ticket manager in the company books.

Large wooden benches once lined the rear of the store and travelers anxiously awaited to board buses for Sandusky, Toledo and Cleveland.

Now, a rumbled brown gas heater rests its bulk near the back of the shop with its stovepipe twisting up through the air and into a chimney.

Putting down his Sunday paper, LaVoo strolls stealthily along the oiled floorboards to rearrange the magazine racks.

In back of him the display case is now barren. Once, giggling children rubbed their faces along the cool glass panels, pointing eagerly to trays of candy that had to be scooped up and weighed.

Along the store’s side, oak cabinets, especially made in Bucyrus, stand proud, but nearly empty. An old pocket watch, hid among some papers, ticks softly.

Perhaps nobody really knows the secretive LaVoo, but those who worked with him as paperboys say he “was a stickler for punctuality”.

“To me, he’s the kind of guy that every young boy should work for because you learned how to work and you learned how to respect work,” said Duane Batch, now clerk of the township board of zoning appeals and employed by District Petroleum Co.

Nearly 30 years has passed since Batch would assemble with three other boys at the rear of Yale’s store to fold and box papers.

“He didn’t let you horse around in there. It was business,” Batch declared. “You got in there at the time the papers came, got them ready, and you went out and delivered them.

“One Halloween,” said Batch, “Yale let it be known that anybody who tricked him would get caught because he had all kinds of elaborate booby traps out there at his house in Chaska Beach, including cameras that could take pictures in the dark.

“We did a lot of things out there, but not to Yale,” he added. Councilman Donald Ritzenthaler was nine years old when he became a paperboy during World War II. He was paid $1.25 per week.

“Yale was fair and very fair to work for,” he said. “But he certainly is frugal. I’ll say that much for him. He probably has the first nickel he ever made.

“I remember when he paid us, he’d stand behind the candy counter and say,’Okay, what do you want?’

“It’s kind of funny now, and I often laugh about it, but I would spend a whole quarter on nickel candy at a time,” the councilman said.

Fireman Lester A. Brownell, whose family lived across the street from the newsstand for 13 years, said he and his three brothers once delivered papers throughout the whole town. Brownell worked for LaVoo about ten years, finally quitting his Sunday route as a freshman in high school.

“LaVoo would often pitch in to help the boys fold papers,” said Brownell. “He even took over our route if we were sick.”

One day, however, the boys decided to strike for a half-penny more per paper delivery.

“We stayed out about two hours and then returned to work. He just offered a couple of guys candy bars,” said the fireman with a laugh.

In two weeks LaVoo says his store will close. Eventually the building will be torn down to make way for urban renewal and a new downtown.

Yale was asked whether he plans to retire. “Hell no, I’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot of work.”