Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
Dean Hauck has seen a lot of Kalamazoo change over the decades from behind her register at Michigan News Agency.
She's been at the store from 1949 when she was a child helping her "Pop," to now —- with a break for raising children and other life adventures from 1957 to 1988.
As noon arrived on a typical 2023 summer day, customers started coming into the shop, forming a scene that could've been from the middle of the last century.
A parent enters with their daughter. The girl announces, "Girl Scout cookies!"
The front of Michigan News in Kalamazoo as seen from Michigan Avenue.
"You're a wheeler-dealer is what you are! I was a Girl Scout when I was a kid...." Hauck says.
Meanwhile, Lia Gaggino, a pediatrician retired from Bronson, was looking for The New Yorker, while talking about how she's "going to New York on a whim." Then she spots Mingle, a magazine devoted to party planning, "my favorite splurge."
I browse the titles of the many magazines and mutter into my recorder the many subjects. Bicycles and guns. A row of mags paying tribute to the passing of Queen Elizabeth and the coronation of King Charles. Life and Star Wars. Music, motorcycles, finance, crosswords, art, and literary journals. Fashion. Home and Outside.
"Beekeeper!" Hauck points out. "It's just ongoing. Because people want other people to be a part of their community. That's what magazines do, they connect us all. And newspapers."
A stack of the New York Times Newspaper for sale at Michigan News.
Hauck works to connect with her customers. She thanks Gaggino and her husband Roger Parzyck of the Heritage Company. "At Christmas time, he buys gift certificates at Michigan News, and he gives them to people down at his shop, to come to my shop," Hauck says.
Gaggino says, "We love Dean! We love independent bookstores, and she has the New York Times. What's not to love?"
"I love her computer system!" Gaggino says. She points to the worn cardboard drawers that hold Hauck's catalog system, with cards for every title in the shop.
"And you can still get Playboy here, so, hey," she jokes.
"No, you can't! All you can get is Hustler, Penthouse Letters, and Penthouse because they don't actually publish Playboy in print anymore," Hauck says.
Michigan News Owner Dean Hauck and loyal customer Lia Gaggino connect over the news.
"Great loss," Gaggino says with some sarcasm.
So it's not quite like it was in 1953 when the Michigan News Agency was the first shop between Detroit and Chicago to sell the first issue of Playboy magazine, with photos of Marilyn Monroe wearing nothing but a smile.
Playboy, and many other adult titles, have gone to the web. As well as many other magazines. Other titles went under, unable to survive the changes the internet unleashed.
The News' newspaper selection has shrunk considerably, too. People still complain to Hauck that the Kalamazoo Gazette, the city's only major newspaper, shrank in size and coverage, and doesn't publish Mondays and Wednesdays.
The Michigan News Agency's history is of another time — vividly highlighted by Hauck's own history.
She was born to an American family in Baguio, Philippines in 1939. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, they also invaded the Philippines. In January 1942 Japanese forces turned the Santo Tomas University into an internment camp
for the many Americans who were on the island.
Her biological father, Clarence "Spider" Heinrich, escaped into the hills to join American and Philippine guerrilla fighters. He was later captured and perished with other POWs on a Japanese ship that was sunk by the U.S.
Hauck remembers being two-and-a-half, marching with her mother and sister into the camp. "We were there for three years and two months. That is where I taught myself how to read."
She remembers her first job, "to hold food tickets in a food line." She saw everyone in line reading books. "And I'm bored."
So she found the university library. Through the magic of books, "I see the Eiffel Tower! Big travel books, oh my gosh, they were gorgeous."
With books, "I was able to escape my life in a prison camp. The last year there was no food for any of us, we all starved. We were rescued by MacArthur and the First Battalion who got to us an hour before they were supposed to, or I wouldn't be here.
Newspaper clippings and articles hanging on display inside Michigan News.
"I feel blessed, and I bring that chosen blessedness to this store every single day."
The family landed in California, and after the war, arrived in Kalamazoo. Local newsstand owner Vincent Malmstrom invited them into his shop. "He brought us in here to impress (Hauck's mother), and I said 'Oh, we have to marry Mr. Vince! This is a great place!"
A newspaper stand surviving decades of changes
It was around 1949-1950 when Hauk started helping out. "I stuffed newspapers and swept floors." Her work continued when she was a high school student at Kalamazoo Central.
She graduated in 1957, went to the University of Michigan, earned a master's at the University of Illinois, and then taught high-school English in Seattle, Washington. She also married and had two daughters.
One-way to two-way
When she left Kalamazoo in 1957, the newsstand was a busy hub of Downtown. Travelers by train and bus could walk from the station on Kalamazoo Ave., then Michigan Ave. out front was also two-way, making it easier to stop and shop Downtown.
A portion of the magazines offered for sale at Michigan News.
Hauck vividly remembers talking about the street out front to Pops in 1965. He excitedly told her that the city had given control of Michigan Avenue to the Michigan Department of Transportation.
"It was wonderful because we wouldn't have to maintain Michigan Avenue anymore, save all this money," she says he told her.
She says she told him, "That's wrong! What you've done is given away your street. That means that people are going to cruise by, not stop at your store, and you're not going to be here because you will not have the community that's living, working around you, supporting you," Hauck says.
"If you look at our (accounting) books for that period, you can see that we dropped half of our customers. Actually half. It was hundreds of dollars a week that we lost because people were no longer driving two-way, coming down, stopping in downtown."
In 1988, with Pops ready to retire, she returned to the shop to take charge. She found it running in the red. "Kids were stealing cartons of cigarettes, money, a variety of different things," she says.
Hauck’s tried and true system for cataloging titles in the store.
She cracked down on the theft, but not much could be done with Kalamazoo. It seemed. Downtown was not the hub that it used to be. One-way roads, plus US-131 and I-94, allowed traffic to flow quickly through and around Kalamazoo. Residents had moved to the suburbs, and shops had moved with them to the malls.
Eventually, Hauck became a member of the Complete Streets Advisory Committee
. She made it known to the City that her customers were having a hard time getting to her shop. People driving to the News often call her for help navigating the one-way streets, and those walking put their lives in danger on the crosswalk over the expanse of Michigan's lanes at Church.
Hauck is just beginning to see the changes for which she's advocated. At the mention of the two streets dominating Downtown, Hauck says "'24 for Kalamazoo, '26 for Michigan Avenue." Next year Kalamazoo Avenue will go back to being two-way, and Michigan (Ave.) in 2026.
Michigan Avenue is undergoing a traffic-slowing reconfiguration
this summer, she points out. And she now has "my flasher" — a sign at the Church crosswalk, when turned on, that flashes yellow, indicating that drivers are to stop for the pedestrians attempting to cross.
A portion of the books offered for sale at Michigan News.
Hauck has stood out on her corner with City Traffic Engineer Dennis Randolph and Kalamazoo City Planner Christina Anderson to show them the dangers of one-way Michigan, she says. She's gone out into the street herself to try to stop cars for pedestrians attempting to cross. "I'm actually out there pointing to the flashing light and speaking to them about how they're supposed to be stopping in the lanes."
She's not the only business wanting Downtown to be a community where people can safely shop, she says. "The reason we're going back to two-way is partly because all the businesses downtown have figured out they don't want to be whizzed past. They'd like to have the community shopping in their stores.
"We want a community of people who are living down here and shopping down here," she says. "We're here because you're here."
On the other big change coming, the new arena, Hauck has questions.
"I'm waiting to see," she says. "I'm hopeful that it doesn't just pull people away from downtown." She worries that people will park there, eat there, attend events all in the arena, and not walk to other businesses.
Lia Gaggino, smiling, a stack of newspapers in her hand.
However, "I am interested in people connecting with people, and I think the arena is going to help us connect with more people.
"We're going to get it right on the arena, as a matter of fact," she adds. "The people who are working with the roads, and designing all of that, are listening to all of us."
Overall, she thinks Kalamazoo is improving compared to what it was like in the late '80s. "And I think things will go on improving. I think that we are gaining people who are understanding how to make this community work.
"I look at this community as a vibrant, educated, caring, intelligent community. And the way they show that is by coming in the doors of Michigan News."
For perspective, know that when Hauck arrived at the News in 1949, TVs were still a rarity in people's homes. WKZO-TV (now WWMT) became the first station in the area to be on-air in 1950.
"What we were in 1949 is a cigarette, tobacco shop," Hauck says. Cigarettes, cigars, candy, a few books, many magazines, and "many more newspapers," than what they have now.
Up into this century, "We were getting a huge number more newspapers." They carried national and international papers, plus many from around our region.
Hauck’s tried and true system for cataloging titles in the store.
"Now, what's happened? All the newspapers have gone to the Internet. 'Virtual presentation,'" she says. The shop carries fewer papers, and the demand for the remaining has dropped.
"The newspaper part of our business has been dramatically cut. Which is why newsstands are disappearing. They are disappearing all over the United States."
When the Kalamazoo Gazette, under MLive, cut its coverage, size, and print rate, "We immediately started to sell less copies of the paper... People would come in, and complain to me, there are no kids' sports pictures." The decline in community coverage, like coverage of youth sports or other local non-hard-news stories, seemed to be the most upsetting for her customers.
"I'd have to explain to them that they were having troubles financially," she says. "I think a lot of people regret the fact that the Gazette has changed so much. They complain about it to me regularly. I recommend that they actually try to communicate with the Gazette... They say, yes, but the Gazette doesn't answer its phone," she says.
"It's an ongoing disappointment about the local newspaper. But you know that's happening all over the United States."
With the advent of the internet, print news has suffered, and undergone some painful transitions as it tried to find its place on the web, on social media, and on one's smartphone.
She mentions the New York Times. "You know when they began (publishing on the web) they weren't charging?" She laughs. "About a month in they figured out they had to charge.
"I think it's too bad that so much stuff can be read without having the paper copy. I still believe in the paper copy," she says. "I really think that we have a culture that would like to have the printed word so that they can carry it with them."
Is it that web-only publication feels ephemeral (Disclosure: Southwest Michigan Second Wave is web-only)? Hauck thinks so."And I think that's a pity. If you have the printed copy, and then you can think about it and respond to it, then you know that you're dealing with the original idea. And I really honor that."
Print on paper requires a larger financial investment, a distribution system, businesses willing to sell the product, and many more gatekeepers than print on the internet. Publications on the internet could be like Second Wave, with investors, funding, and dedicated paid staff, or it could be a source of questionable info funded by shadowy bad-faith interests, or it could be one person's fact-free post.
"Print on the internet can be manipulated, and is manipulative," she says. "What this means is that we're losing -- if nothing else, getting less smart because it's so easy to find anything, and then go and send it on to somebody else."
Books are 40%
"We never found a decline" in business as publications went digital, Hauck says.
She thanks her customers. "Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan understand that, if we don't make it, then they've lost their heart."
A portion of the books offered for sale at Michigan News.
But also, she's developed some shrewd business sense from decades of working in print retail.
"I'm the person that figured out that if you sell newspapers and you only make 6% (profit off the cover price), then you must have a huge collection of magazines."
The News had over 7,000 magazine titles, before the era of what she calls "virtual presentation." Around 6,000 titles are now in her racks.
"You make 30% on magazines, but the real kicker is, you make 40% on books. That's why bookstores are going to survive, and newsstands — we're one of the last newsstands in the United States."
Now, the newsstand is mainly a bookstore. "I increased our collection to half a million copies" of paperbacks. Hauck takes customer requests and will order hardcovers for customers. "On Amazon, they'd get it lots cheaper," she says. "They buy them here because as they put it, they want me to be here, right here."
Book sales for her have gone up "tremendously" over the past few years, she says.
"Books at 40% means if people will walk in that door and buy their books from us, I'll be here forever."
During the interview, employee Alex George was walking along the racks, a customer behind him, one of Hauck's cards from her "computer" in his hand.
"What are we looking for, Alex?"
"Robb Report," George says. Hauck points to it in the rack.
"I've been coming in here since 1985," the customer, Scott Taylor, says. "I'm still hands-on, gotta see it, gotta read it, gotta touch it. And the selection, sadly, I think it's gone down."
"We've lost a thousand titles because of the internet," Hauck says. "All the Chevy magazines went to the internet. 'Virtual presentation?' Good lord!"
Still, Taylor drives from his home in South Haven, just for the News, because of "the selection, and you!" he says to Hauck. "I don't know you personally, but I've seen you here for this many years. Your dedication and all that. I just love the place. It's old-school."
He says, "I'm also a small-town guy, and this is a small-town feel. I'd rather give to a local business than a Barnes and Noble or anything like that... A lot of times I'll come out of here with $100 out of my wallet because I've bought all the magazines I've been missing."
"Interesting, the concept of 'old-school,'" she says after Taylor left.
For her, it's about being hands-on with print, face-to-face with customers, and very involved in the community.
Since 1988 she's made an effort to connect with the community. She supports the Kalamazoo Public Library and its author readings. Hauck has racks of books from local authors and generously pays self-published local authors 100% of their cover price for every book sold (Disclosure: Mark Wedel's "Mule Skinner Blues" is somewhere among the half-million books).
During COVID, 2020, the business was deemed essential because it sold newspapers. Hauck found herself running books, papers, and magazines out to cars waiting in the street. She would keep the store open after closing time for individual customers who felt safest shopping alone.
She chats with everyone and hears about their struggles.
Like a good bartender?
More like a bartender/librarian. "I can actually turn to a publication, or recommend a book, and tell them if they would like, if it's in the store, you can read it right now and decide if you want to buy it," she says.
Michigan News’ owner, Dean Hauck smiling at the counter.
"We are an answer for people. At this point in a lot of my people's lives, they are looking for answers. And we are an answer store."
Hauck gets up every morning at 5 AM, opens at 7 AM, and "works every day until five at night because I believe in all of us."
Does she ever think about retiring?
"Nope. I think I have ten or 15 more years, and then I'll have to figure out what to do with it. Pass it on to somebody else."
When that subject comes up, she says she thinks of something Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, said, "Find something you love to do, and do it until the wheels fall off."