Newspaper boxes stand along the wall of the BB&T building last September. Boxes for some of the publications featured have gone missing. File photo by Max Cooper.
Almost 50 newspaper boxes from a variety of publications are missing from downtown Asheville, with some having mysteriously disappeared in recent weeks. Neither city staff nor representatives of the publications contacted to date have any idea who is behind the disappearances.
An inventory conducted by Xpress Distribution Manager Jeff Tallman showed that, as of this week, there were 168 boxes downtown, down from 238 in February 2012, the last time he conducted such a survey. Boxes can disappear for a variety of reasons — typically, publications move or remove them, or they fall prey to theft — but in this case representatives of at least two of the publications say they’re also in the dark about what’s going on.
Factoring in boxes that were removed by defunct publications or moved to a different part of town, Tallman estimates that about 50 have vanished without explanation. Some locations seem particularly affected: most of the boxes near Tressa’s on Broadway are gone, as are many in front of Pack Library. In some locations on Haywood and Wall Street, all the boxes are gone. The publications hit include Asheville Scene, the Laurel of Asheville, the Asheville Daily Planet, The Urban News, and more. Tallman says many of the disappearances seem to be recent; he became aware of the problem earlier this week after distribution staff at other local publications contacted him trying to figure out what was going on.
Shoji Spa had 12 boxes for distribution of its advertising booklets, mostly around downtown; all but one have disappeared in the last few weeks.
“We haven’t removed any boxes at all,” owner Roberta Jordan tells Xpress. “Up until a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like we had all our boxes.”
Likewise, the Daily Planet monthly has also suffered a rash of missing boxes, with publisher John North estimating he’s lost five in the past year.
“I don’t know, but if you find out what happened to them, let me know,” North says. “It comes right out of my pocket.”
According to city spokesperson Brian Postelle, city staff were unaware of the problem until Tallman brought it to their attention, played no role in moving the boxes, and are unaware of who might have taken them. The Asheville Police Department has not yet returned calls for comment.
Newspaper boxes downtown have been a controversial issue over the last two years, with some city staff and members of the Downtown Commission asserting that many of the boxes were an eyesore that might require regulation. Some locations, including near Tressa’s and Pack Library, were a particular focus of concern.
However, numerous U.S. Supreme Court rulings sharply restrict the ability of governments to remove newspapers and commercial publications from public spaces. Attempts last year to regulate newspaper boxes in downtown Asheville faltered, and no new rules were put in place, though the topic has come up for discussion on several occasions, including at a Downtown Commission meeting earlier this month. Instead of new rules, the commission issued working guidelines, and local publishers and city staff agreed to communicate more frequently about any issues that might arise.