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Avril 50, Philadelphia. A time capsule of 1984 with magazines and journals

Established while he was completing his second master’s degree, Shahidi founded Avril 50 as a response to the lack of stores carrying magazine publications and academic journals that catered to students’ needs and wants

Avril 50 in Philadelphia

An Iranian native, John Shahidi is the owner of Avril 50. A ewsstand providing esoteric reading materials in Philadelphia for the last thirty-seven years since its opening in September of 1984. Donning thick-black rimmed glasses and a blue and white striped shirt, Shahidi explains that the name of the store, ‘Avril’, was one that his wife came up with. Being born in April, in the year 1950, his wife suggested the name of the store be ‘Avril 50’. An homage to Shahidi himself. «April is the month when Spring starts as well. The world comes to life. As Persians, it is when we celebrate the new year. The word ‘Avril’ is a translation of ‘April’ in French», explains the owner.

Shahidi, who is seventy-one years old this year explains that Avril 50 is an establishment distinct to the locale. One that is in its individual vein of identity. «There are stores that mimic the ethos of Avril 50 here in the area and around greater Philadelphia. There is no store that is specific to what we offer though. The store is a collage of varying aspects coming together».

Located on 3406 Sansom Street, Avril 50 is within the University of Pennsylvania area. Here, over time, it has garnered a reputation for its offerings amongst its students and faculty members. Avril 50, alongside offering magazines, displays a collection of academic journals, bespoke coffee and teas, chocolates, tobacco and greeting cards that encourage individuals to add their personal greetings.

Shahidi and his wife relocated themselves to the United States to pursue post-graduate degrees in the University of Pennsylvania. «I have a Master of Business Administration degree in International Business and a Master of Arts in Political Sciences and International Relations». 

The inception of the newsstand

Established while he was completing his second master’s degree, Shahidi founded Avril 50 as a response to the lack of stores carrying magazine publications and academic journals that catered to students’ needs and wants. Shahidi shares that while at his time in university, he took on a job at the university’s student life office. He explains that his time here, communicating with students and faculty members, allowed him to strengthen his business model.

The addition of fine coffees and teas, is a complement to the reading experience. His section of bespoke tobacco and cigarettes was a reflection from a time in the eighties where there was no enforcement of no-smoking rules. «Back then, when I was studying or reading for that matter, I had a cigarette or two. It goes well together with a book or a magazine and a cup of coffee». The types of items carried in the store have been left unchanged. Shahidi states that while some items are unavailable due to restrictions or manufacturing issues, Avril 50 has stood in its shell, behaving as a time capsule to when they opened in the eighties.

Shahidi shares that in the beginning, his wife, Shiva Vakili, had assisted him when Avril 50 was first founded. «She then went on to complete her PhD and took on positions in the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Princeton. I have been manning the store since then». Avril 50’s pool of customers are from the environs – students, faculty members and individuals living in the area. Shahidi adds that there are returning customers who have been coming back to Avril 50 since the start of the business. 

The location of the newsstand

Avril 50 is in between four restaurants, across the law faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, shares Shahidi. Having come across the space while on a walk with his wife, Shahidi took a liking to the area due to its location and its being in the center of the university neighborhood. He adds that the area across Sansom Street was once residential, hosting one restaurant. A stark contrast to what it is today. «Today, the building is, at approximate, onehundredandthirty years old. The Second Empire architecture style, borrowed from row houses in Paris, characterizes it».

Renting the space then, Shahidi and his wife molded the bones of Avril 50 to his liking – showcasing shelving units to house the literary goods he sold. Designed and constructed by himself and his wife, the furniture pieces are an essence of Shahidi himself. A reflection that resides in Avril 50. Having once been owned by the Director of the Fine Arts program in the university, Shahidi took to purchasing the store with the two floors above him when it was available for sale.

Products selection at Avril 50

He is now the owner of the building, subletting the two apartments above him and managing Avril fifty-six days a week. «I used to run the store seven days a week. A task I have held for the past thirty-five years, working from 7:30am to 10.00pm, leaving the store a few hours later, after doing my closing routine. I am seventy-one this year. I spend my free time now with my family».

The space of the store spans across seventy-five square meters. Upon entering the yellow arched doorway to Avril 50, customers find an arrangement of coffee beans on the left. Adjacent to the coffee beans are teas and journals. Towards the back of the store, Shahidi has added greeting cards that he procures from creators and stores across Europe.

On the right side of the store, magazines flood the shelves and close-by the door is the till and chocolates. Behind the till lies cigars and cigarettes. The chocolates sold in stores come from Belgium and France. Shahidi adds that his blend of coffee beans is unique to Avril 50, called Avril 50 Blend. Acquired through international food shows in the Philadelphia area, Shahidi spent two years curating the blend. This showcases dark notes of sweetness and appropriate acidity that can be consumed by itself.  

John Shahidi is the owner of Avril 50, a newsstand providing esoteric reading materials in Philadelphia

Lampoon review: Books and magazines selection at Avril 50

Carrying recondite magazine titles, Shahidi prides Avril 50’s library collection of titles. One that allows for the store to stand out from its peers. Carrying publications from countries across Europe, titles are in the subject matter of high-fashion, lifestyle and art magazines that sit alongside the academic journals. Magazine titles include Elephant Magazine, Self Service, Purple, TLS and Dazed&Confused to name a few. Academic journals, on the other hand, include Baffler, Paris Review and MacSweeney. These add to an estimate of one-thousand-and-five-hundred pieces of reading materials in the store.

«Carrying magazines as such has allowed us to draw in our customers. We have individuals coming in from New York on occasion to purchase titles as they are hard to come by with their newsstands and magazine sellers». Acquired over time through research and the recommendations of his customers, a number of publishers and distributors approached Shahidi as well, in order to carry certain titles in store. Open to carrying works made by creators up and coming, Shahidi shares writers from the environs approach him when they are keen on publishing and selling their work. A bulletin board hangs by the entrance of Avril 50. Here Shahidi has allotted a space for the people around him to promote events. 

His method of promotion for the store involves his social media page. An integration made in the rise of the digital age. Here, he leaves cryptic poems and sentences that include the titles of magazines being sold that week. «Men came to be with man about town and got dazed and confused with elepnt lampoon on the wire». This is an example of one of his promotional campaign methods that has nabbed the attention of locals and those across the state of Philadelphia.

The importance of print and sustainability for Shahidi

Having once carried newspapers from locations across the globe, Shahidi has since halted this offering due to the digitization of newspapers. He explains that newspapers came into the store from The United Kingdom, Australia and Italy. «Magazines stand apart from newspapers», explains Shahidi. Due to its content and print quality, he shares that customers seek print magazines in Avril 50 due to the tangible experience readers perceive while reading them. «When it comes to fashion magazines for example, one cannot experience the distinct message being passed along to the reader from a tablet».

Working with the recycling centers in the area, Avril 50 ensures that recyclable items and refuse from the store are disposed according to the town’s guidelines. Due to COVID-19 restrictions hindering the flow of customers, Avril 50 was unable to carry out their day-to-day business. Having been supported by his returning customers, Shahidi kept Avril 50 operating through his savings. Brewing coffee and selling beans to his customers each day, Shahidi looks to keep Avril 50 and its identity persevering in the Sansom Street neighborhood for as long as he can. Avril 50 is open from Monday to Friday, from 7:30am to 6:00pm and from 10:00am to 5:00pm on Saturday. 

Avril 50 

3406 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19104, United States

Avril 50 is an eclectic shop for gourmet coffees and teas by the cup or pound, international publications and more.

Pravin Nair

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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