Al’s Newsstand and Tobacco Shop prepares to close after 71 years

Blake O'Brien

Newsprint, popcorn and tobacco create the unforgettable smell of Al’s.

When Pam Orzell, the manager of the Al’s Newsstand and Tobacco Shop for more than 20 years, announced they were closing, she said a woman stopped by and asked, “Do you have a candle that smells like Al’s?”

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After 71 years, Al’s Newsstand and Tobacco Shop, a fixture in Fort Collins at 177 N. College Ave. will permanently shut its doors Sept. 15.

Al's Newsstand and Tobacco shop, located in Old Town Fort Collins, is closing it's doors after 71 years of business. Problems with not getting supplied by their magazine distributor led to the desicion to close the stand.
Al’s Newsstand and Tobacco shop, located in Old Town Fort Collins, is closing its doors after 71 years of business. Problems with not getting supplied by their magazine distributor led to the decision to close the stand. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

Although the challenges of rising rent and limited parking in downtown Fort Collins posed difficulties for the shop, Al’s was faced with another, bigger problem: The store’s distributor also went out of business.

Orzell said the new distributor wasn’t as reliable as Al’s needed. She was unable to fill customers’ requests for publications as large as Time because the distributor could not provide the copies.

“The inconsistency just became too great for us,” Orzell said. “We just thought, ‘We’re going to go out on a high note. We’re going to go out with our heads held high.’”

It’s one of Old Town’s oldest and most beloved retailers, nestled between an art store and a barber shop across from the Northern Hotel. 

The inside is usually riddled with magazines and cigarettes. Locals and tourists alike stop by Al’s for a read or a puff or some popcorn, popped by the vintage popcorn machine near the store’s entrance.

Orzell said old customers come in all the time and say that the shop still smells the same after 71 years. 

“And I don’t take offense,” Orzell said. “I wish I could bottle this smell because that’s what so many people remember through the years.”

The range of customer base went from the President of CSU to someone just passing through town, but it didn’t matter. You were always welcome at Al’s.” -Pam Orzell, manager of the Al’s Newsstand and Tobacco Shop.

At its peak, Al’s carried more than 2,500 titles from National Geographic to publications that were nationally unknown.

David Freed, a Colorado State University journalism professor, novelist and contributing editor for Air & Space Smithsonian, said Al’s reading selection has always impressed him.

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“The thing that struck me about Al’s was they catered not just to common reading interests, but there were some ridiculously obscure publications there,” Freed said.

The newsstand was originally named Al’s and Bud’s. Back then, the store only sold The Rocky Mountain News, a daily newspaper published in Denver until Feb. 27, 2009.

Orzell said more than anything, she hopes that people think about Al’s as a welcoming community.

“The range of customer base went from the President of CSU to someone just passing through town, but it didn’t matter,” Orzell said. “You were always welcome at Al’s.”

That has a lot to do with the people that run the place: People like Orzell, and John and Mary Anne Duffy, the owners of Al’s Newsstand and Tobacco Shop. Orzell said the Duffys are the reason she’s stuck around for so long.  

“You couldn’t talk to anybody who ever worked with them that wouldn’t tell you the same thing,” she said.

Al's Newsstand and Tobacco shop, located in Old Town Fort Collins, is closing it's doors after 71 years of business. Problems with not getting supplied by their magazine distributor led to the desicion to close the stand.
After 71 years of business in Old Town Fort Collins, Al’s Newsstand and Tobacco shop is closing its doors permanently. Reliability problems with their magazine distributor led to the decision to close the stand. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

The Duffys bought Al’s from a man named Joe McCurdy in 1982. Last week, the 94-year-old McCurdy came in to check out the shop for one last time. 

“I stopped everybody in the store and I introduced him, and all of the store started giving him a round of applause,” Orzell said. “It was so heartwarming. He was taken aback.”

When the Duffys purchased Al’s from McCurdy 36 years ago, they owned 13 newsstands across Colorado. Since Narrow Gauge Newsstand in Alamosa closed last year, Al’s has been their last shop standing.  

Freed said he thinks that the shop’s closure is a major loss to the Fort Collins community.

“It’s a pleasure for most people to just sit and read a greatly constructed magazine story,” Freed said. “To not have that opportunity at a place like Al’s is really unfortunate.”

Orzell said it’s a sign of the times. People don’t need to go downtown to a newsstand for information or cigarettes anymore. The news is on their phone, and there’s a corner store on every block.

“Life brings changes, and it was time for Al’s to change,” Orzell said. “Everything has a life, and Al’s had a pretty darn good life.” 

Collegian reporter Blake O’Brien can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @BTweetsOB