Today is the last day in business for Sawyer’s News, a beloved institution in downtown Santa Rosa. Since its move from San Rafael to Santa Rosa in 1945, and now at its longtime location at 733 Fourth Street, it’s been an invaluable resource to the city, and personally, I know all of us around the Bohemian office have been pondering how we’ll get by without them.
Sawyer’s News closes at 6pm today for good. Here’s what I’ll always remember about the place.1. It’s Where I First Found Out About 9-11
I was living in an apartment on Beaver Street at the time, about a block away. I woke up about 10 minutes before I had to be at work—like I usually did in those days—and left the house oblivious. “Hey Stacy! How’s it goin’?” I said as I cruised through Sawyer’s. Her reply: “You haven’t heard?”
She told me what had happened. I was pretty confused, and the day got even more confusing as events unfolded. Newsstands are a great community hub to discuss what’s going on in the world, but I gotta say, that morning in 2001 took the cake.2. They Wouldn’t Let Bruce Willis Use Their Bathroom
True story! Bruce Willis was in town filming Bandits when he double-parked on Fourth Street in front of Sawyer’s and walked up to the front counter. “Hey man,” he casually said, “You guys got a bathroom I could use?” Dustin, the employee behind the counter, recognized the blockbuster movie star, but rules were rules. “I’m sorry sir,” he replied, “but our restrooms are for employee use only.” Willis gave him an incredulous look. “Really?” he persisted.“You can try the library or Barnes & Noble,” replied Dustin, and with that, a defeated Bruce Willis walked out of Sawyer’s News.
Dustin then told his co-worker Delee what had happened. “You WHAT?!” she cried, running out onto the sidewalk after her idol. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Willis,” she hastily said, “You can use the bathroom here.” She led him into the Old Vic, and to this day Chris Stokeld loves to brag that Bruce Willis peed in his bathroom. (Dustin now runs the Santa Rosa Tool Lending Library.)3. They Even Had A Magazine Called ‘Crappie World’
Yeah, sure, it’s about fishing. But come on! It’s called Crappie World! I first noticed it on the shelf once when I was having a particularly lousy day. It was $4, but something told me that if I purchased it, I would be acquiescing to and therefore rising above all that was “crappy” in life. Donovan, working behind the counter and knowing that I didn’t fish, very nearly refused to sell it to me on principles of common sense alone. I insisted. I took it home. My day got better.
Of course, that’s just one of countless magazines they carried.
There’s something about a newsstand that carries the first issue of Wax Poetics, before the hype. Or the first issue of Found, also before the hype. Juxtapoz, before the hype. Tiny little music magazines that wouldn’t have a chance at Barnes & Noble. Ridiculously priced French fashion magazines that every girlfriend I’ve ever had loved to buy anyway. Remember when you first found Interview there? Or Transworld Skateboarding? Or Good Magazine? McSweeny’s? Cometbus? Make Magazine? Entire worlds opening up before your eyes. The list goes on and on.4. The Great ‘Candy Bar Cool-Down’ Day
It was a sweltering summer day, right in the middle of a heat wave. I walked in to Sawyer’s and they had arranged dozens of candy bars on the floor, in the middle of the store. Multiple fans were set up, blowing at full blast on Snicker’s bars, on 3 Musketeers bars, on Mr. Goodbars. “What in the world’s going on?” I asked. “Oh, our air conditioning’s broken and all the candy bars are melting! We’re trying to save them!”
An unforgettable image.5. It Was A Great Place To Put Up Flyers
The back hallway. So primo. Every flyer was always taken down and tossed out on the first and fifteenth of the month, so it was good news if your show was on the 14th. I found out about so many shows just by looking at that bulletin board, and I still have the first flyer I ever saved from Sawyer’s—for the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing at the Phoenix Theater in 1989.6. The Art In The Front Window
It’s pretty unbelievable that for all these years, John and Dan found a steady stream of local artists and committed themselves to showing their art in the front window. Every once in a while there’d be dull pastel landscapes, but for the most part it was all intriguing, quality stuff. It was an afterthought, usually, that it was even there—a cool little “P.S.” on your way out of the store.7. Wrapping Paper For That Special Someone
It was expensive, that top-notch wrapping paper! But when you had to get a killer present at the last minute and you didn’t want to wrap it in the same chintzy MacFrugal’s wrapping paper you’d been using all year, you went to Sawyer’s and plunked down the five bucks for thick paper and a bow, just to make your gift look sharp.8. All Books 20% Off
The whole reason Sawyer’s expanded and took over the “greeting card” half of the store in the early 1990s—previously a separate storefront occupied by a hair salon, and before that, Flaky Cream Donuts—is because they planned on selling books. Then Barnes & Noble moved in right across the street, effectively killing the idea. People loved the card selection at Sawyer’s, and I myself bought plenty of cards. But I appreciated that Sawyer’s still stocked a few books, and I was glad they were always 20% off.9. The Vices: Cigarettes and Porn
The unnoticed underbelly of Sawyer’s News! I didn’t mind paying a little more for my Lucky Strikes at Sawyer’s; that’s the trade-off for not having to see cigarette advertising everywhere inside the store. I also never bought a porno mag there—honest!—even though it was always funny to see someone you knew browsing the section.
It enraged a lot of people in Santa Rosa when Spice, a lingerie shop with a selection of sex toys in the back, was shut down by the city over decency issues while at the same time John Sawyer, a councilman, openly sold pornography. Ultimately John didn’t have final say over the situation, but the whole thing made him look bad. Even thought the pressure was on, he didn’t shut down the “adult magazine” section just to look good.10. The Gang at Centro Espresso
Last but definitely not least, a special mention for Susan, Loretta and the whole Centro Espresso gang, who rented space in Sawyer’s to sell the best espresso drinks in town. (Always double shots!) One morning I stumbled bleary-eyed to the counter and ordered a mocha. “How’s it goin’, kiddo?” Susan asked. “Well, you want the truth of it,” I said, “me and my girlfriend broke up last night after four years.” She gave me the mocha for free as consolation. I always remembered that small, sweet gesture.
Centro quickly took up the role of community hub and complemented Sawyer’s impeccably. While fly-by-night downtown debutantes got their fix at the chains on Fourth and D, it seemed like all the true movers and shakers of Santa Rosa convened at Centro. Even Alberto Contador got coffee there once! A Tour de France winner!
–Thanks, John and Dan, for everything. You’ve meant more to us than you can possibly know. Best of luck to you both.– Gabe Meline