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Matt Field/Medill

Albert Ellis, center, a Chicago Sun-Times hawker. He sold out his supply of newspaper bundles several times on Wednesday. 

Obama paper chase takes over Chicago Loop the morning after historic win

by Hollis Templeton
Nov 05, 2008


Hollis Templeton/Medill

Damyabhai Patel explains to a customer that he is not sure when additional newspaper shipments will arrive. Patel sold out of Chicago papers by 8:30 a.m.


Hollis Templeton/Medill

Newspaper vending machines in the Chicago Loop were sold out the day following Barack Obama's historic presidential victory.

Hot off the presses

By Matt Field

Albert Ellis is sold out, but that hasn’t stopped people from repeatedly asking the 47-year-old Sun-Times hawker the same question: Are you getting any more papers?

“It’s history and everybody wants a piece of history,” said Ellis while he waited for another batch of papers on his patch of downtown concrete on Randolph Street just West of Michigan Ave., adding wistfully, “Tomorrow I won’t be able to give one away.”

To say that the Nov. 5 Sun-Times' full frontpage black-and-white headshot of Barack Obama printed with the words "Mr. President" is a hot commodity in the president-elect's hometown is putting it mildly.

Ellis started his day at 5 a.m. Wednesday and was sold out of his first batch of over 100 papers by 8 a.m. His distributor dropped off 60 more and they, too, were gone within a half-hour. The next delivery of the papers -- this time 200 of them -- were gone in another hour.

It wasn’t just the brisk sales that were lifting Ellis’ spirits. One look at the extra large Obama button on his jersey said it all.

“People say it’s because he’s black,” said Ellis of Obama. “But it’s not. He’s a Chicagoan – he’s one of us.”

Ellis said sales were good the day the Chicago Cubs clinched a playoff spot in September, but not like this.

“This is the most money I’ve made selling papers,” he said, then joking, “I might just get a room at the Hilton tonight.”

Chicagoans hoping to snag commemorative election editions of the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times the morning after Barack Obama’s historic Presidential victory had to act quickly. By 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, newsstand shelves in the Loop were bare.

Whoever said the newspaper industry was dying obviously wasn’t talking about Election Day 2008.

“I literally put 50 cents in the driver’s hand,” said Linda, who caught a Sun-Times deliveryman pulling up to a newspaper box just in time. The Monroe Street real estate secretary, who declined to give her last name, doesn’t usually buy the paper, but today was an exception. 

Heightened demand for headlines displaying the election of America’s first African-American president kept Chicago’s newspaper companies busy throughout the day.

“We printed pretty close to 50 percent additional copies above normal daily circulation,” said Tammy Chase, director of corporate communications for Sun-Times Media Group, Inc. “They sold out this morning, so we are printing another 10 to 15 percent.”

That 10 to 15 percent arrived in the Loop around 11 a.m. and also vanished within minutes.

Around 1 p.m. more copies of the Sun-Times were set to arrive at the CVS/pharmacy on the corner of Adams and State Streets.

“It’s all based on rumors and conjecture,” said Alex, who works at a non-profit agency in the Loop and declined to give his last name. The 25-year-old Avondale resident said he heard that a newsstand from down the street was bringing papers to the CVS.

Alex stood second in a line of about 25 people for more than a half- hour waiting for his paper.

“I am considering giving up and scrounging around in my own neighborhood,” he said. “I’m really stretching my lunch break here."

Seconds later papers arrived and customers quickly depleted the small stack of Sun-Times. Again, the rack was empty.

“We normally have a single-copy press run of about 200,000,” said Chase. “We have doubled our normal single-copy circulation run to 405,000 today to meet the demand.”

“Our Sun-Times store is incredibly busy and people are driving to our Ashland [Ave.] plant to buy papers from the guard at the plant entrance,” she added.

“It’s good for business, but only today,” said Damyabhai Patel, who runs a newsstand on the corner of Clark and Adams Streets and usually has a harder time selling his papers.

Newspapers were delivered to Patel’s stand at 7:30 a.m. and by 8:30 a.m. they were gone. His meager shipment included 20 to 25 copies of the Chicago Sun-Times, 10 to 15 copies of the Chicago Tribune and two to three copies each of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.

Of course, special edition papers also help the companies that produce them.

“We couldn’t think of a better way to display our new layout,” said Michael Dizon, communications manager of Chicago Tribune Media Group.

Dizon said the Tribune printed 200,000 more copies of today’s edition to meet increased demand.

“We’ve been preparing for today’s edition for months,” he added. The paper wanted to make sure that everything—from election coverage to printing and distribution—went according to plan.

Dizon said he was pleased with the company’s performance today. “We’ll be taking advantage of our printing capabilities until it’s time to print tomorrow’s paper,” he said.

While according to Dizon, the Chicago Tribune focused on getting its election edition papers to 7-Eleven stores throughout the Chicago area, other retailers spent the day turning customers away.

Fifteen minutes after Metromart at 125 S. Clark St. opened, papers were gone. Store clerk Neelam Shah, whose photo with Barack Obama hangs behind the counter, said the store received more than double its typical shipment of the two big Chicago papers today. Still, 30 Sun-Times and 16 Tribunes flew off the shelves.

At Clark Street’s Books-A-Million bookstore, the Tribune usually arrives at 7:30 a.m. Today the paper arrived 30 minutes late and sold out immediately.

“In the mean time, between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., [shoppers] bought all of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times,” said the store’s general manager Jeff Burakowski. “Anything with Obama on it.”

“Maybe we should put a sign on the door,” suggested Books-A-Million employee Connie Hohimer.

Daily newspapers from New York to Seattle faced similar problems supplying commemorative edition papers.

The Cincinnati Enquirer sold out of single copies of today's paper and printed 10,000 extra copies of the election results section.

Around noon, a line of people outside The New York Times waited on delivery of an added press run of 50,000 copies.

The Plain Dealer sold out in Cleveland and copies are being reprinting to be inserted in tomorrow's single-copy sales.

The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer were almost sold out at noon and the Washington Post had to print 150,000 extra copies in addition to today’s 30 percent increase in circulation.

“Obviously today is a great day for newspapers in Chicago and we are thrilled,” Chase said. “Wish we could have every day like this.”

“It’s going to be one of those days we all remember where we were when Barack Obama was elected president.”

As proof of just how much Americans enjoy having a tangible piece of history to hold onto, copies of today’s Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, and Red Eye newspapers are selling for as much as $50 each on Craigslist.