By Katherine Hon
The recent closing of some of North Park’s most venerable businesses like Pekin Cafe and Paesano Italian Restaurant should increase our appreciation for those who are still standing strong. Paras Newsstand, at 3911 30th St., has provided a dizzying selection of magazines, newspapers, paper goods and other convenience items since the early 1950s.
The store occupies the northwest corner of a large brick and concrete building constructed in 1928 for the United Realty Company. The building permit covered 11 stores extending from 3002 to 3020 University Ave. Owl Drug Company took much of the space, opening in February 1929 and remaining until after World War II. Joseph Jessop & Sons Jewelers next occupied that corner through the 1950s.
The space fronting 30th Street long held by Paras Newsstand started as the Basham Beauty Shoppe in 1930 and was Melody Beauty Shop later in the 1930s. During the 1940s, the space was alternately a beauty shop, gift store and vacant. In 1950, the City Directory listed 3911 30th St. as a cigar store operated by Frank L. Hill; it was listed as Baker’s Cigar and Newsstand in 1952.
In 1953, Chris Paras bought the store, adding magazines and paperback books to the merchandise offered. By 1980, magazines constituted 80% of his business. In a 1980 interview for the San Diego Union, Paras said he started his business with just $5,000 and felt it was better than some work he could have gotten into.
Paras came from a family of hard-working store owners. In 1903, his father George came from Greece to the U.S. through Ellis Island, where his last name was changed from Paraskas to “Paras” to be shorter and easier to pronounce. George was the proprietor of a confectionary store in Chicago in the 1930s and listed his employment on his World War II draft registration card in 1942 as “Self employed, Newsstand” in Chicago.
Chris — the eldest of three sons — was born in 1923. He served in the Navy as a Machinist Mate on the aircraft carrier Intrepid during World War II, participating in many harrowing battles in the Pacific. By the mid-1940s, the family had all come to California. They initially lived in Escondido and later La Mesa, but in 1959 they were listed in the City Directory at 3930 Kansas St., just one block west of Paras Newsstand.
While Chris operated the North Park store, middle brother Stratie, born in 1928, ran the Paras Shop in Ocean Beach from 1952 to 1995. There was a third Paras store in La Mesa for many years. Youngest brother William, born in 1929, also clerked in the stores.
Chris sold the North Park business to Rocky and Mike Attallah in 1987 and enjoyed retirement until passing away in 2010. Ken and Ann Gabbara, the current owners, bought the store from the Attallah brothers in 2007. All have maintained the Paras name and historical commitment to neighborhood service.
The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Nov. 5, 1994 issue featured a profile of North Park’s Paras Newsstand by reporter Bob Rowland, who proclaimed the store to be a “world of its own.” He interviewed Kent Snyder, who had started working at the store for Chris Paras in 1986 and still works there today. When asked who shops at Paras, Snyder replied, “Hard to say — everybody, I guess.” And in answer to the follow-up question — what are they looking for — he said, “Just about everything.”
Paras Newsstand is the only retail store in North Park’s commercial core to stock the definitive history of North Park’s first 50 years, “North Park: A San Diego Urban Village, 1896-1946” by the late Donald Covington. Although Paras Newsstand started just after that book ended, the store continues to be an important part of North Park’s history and future.
— Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-294-8990.