Shinders' 9-decade run ends in turmoil

  • Article by: Matt McKinney
  • Star Tribune
  • July 16, 2007 - 11:42 PM

Shinders, the 91-year-old newsstand chain that has been slowly closing stores during the past several months, finally hit bottom Monday, shuttering the remaining eight stores.

Employees at the Maplewood location learned the news Monday morning when company vice president Tara Johnson stopped by to tell them in person that the company, which has been stumbling for more than a year, could no longer pay its employees.

"The writing's been on the wall for a while now," said Casey Carver, who worked for more than two years at the company. He said Johnson told employees that company owner Robert Weisberg took everyone's names except his own off of the company's bank accounts, making it impossible to pay employees. Carver said he was paid in cash for his last shift on Monday.

Neither Weisberg nor Johnson could be reached for comment.

Weisberg, a distant relative of the Shinder family, took control of the chain in 2003. But the 45-year-old attorney's personal troubles mounted last year when he was arrested after police found methamphetamine, Ecstasy, needles and a .40-caliber rifle in his van.

Weisberg failed to show for at least two court appearances in the past several months. His criminal case is continuing, with his next court appearance scheduled for Aug. 27, said his attorney, Joseph Friedberg. Weisberg also faces disciplinary action before the state Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility board for negligence in his law practice, which closed this year.

Former owner Joel Shinder, who built the company from one store to 13 during his reign from 1976 to 2003, said he felt "horrible" upon learning the news Monday.

"If you would have asked me three months ago, I would have thought there was a possibility that it could turn around," he said.

Shinders, founded by five brothers in 1916 shortly after they immigrated from Russia, opened its first location at the corner of S. 6th Street and Hennepin Avenue and adopted the jingle "Rain, sun, snow or sleet, there's always a Shinder on the street." The business was in its heyday in the 1940s and '50s, selling thousands of newspapers and "huge piles" of magazines daily, said Shinder.

He said the company was in "superb" condition when he sold it four years ago.

The chain was stumbling badly by last year, losing $100,000 per month when a court-appointed receiver turned control over to its primary banker, Wells Fargo. The bank liquidated some of the company's assets to repay a pair of loans to Weisberg originally valued at $1.7 million. The bank last month bought at a sheriff's auction the company's warehouse and corporate office at 917 5th Av. S.

The loss of Shinders, known equally well for comic books, pornography, magazines, baseball cards and sports memorabilia, hit some customers hard on Monday. They compared the store to such other longtime Minneapolis originals as First Avenue and the Electric Fetus.

"I'm amazed that an institution like this could close," said Kevin Davis, who stopped at the Hennepin Avenue location on Monday evening to peer into the darkened windows. Davis, who said he had heard about the owner's drug problems and criminal charges, said the back story behind the store's closure upset him.

"How could this guy do this?"

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329 •

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