Newspaper hawker Troy Corne sets up shop every day on the median at West Irvington and South Mission roads, offering the Tucson Citizen and that other daily paper.
If you drive that way, it’s impossible to miss him because Corne doesn’t just sell the paper. He markets and promotes it.
Most hawkers stand on a corner with a stack of newspapers. Corne spends a half-hour each morning setting up an elaborate display.
He tapes the front page and other sections to milk crates and the traffic pole, so people can see what’s in the paper that day. He surrounds the pages with a collection of signs: “25 cents,” “Financing Available,” “Hot Off the Presses” and “All This Can Be Yours.” He decorates the display with small American flags.
I’ve always meant to thank Corne for the great job he does promoting the Citizen and interview him for a story. With the Citizen possibly closing March 21 after 138 years in business, there’s no time like the present.
Corne, 48, kept one eye on traffic for customers, never missing a sale as we talked for a half-hour on the median Wednesday afternoon.
The Tucson native and member of the 1978 graduating class of Rincon High School last worked as a cashier in a hardware store. In 2005, he lost his job, his wife left him and the bank foreclosed on his home.
Corne, who battles depression and migraines, said his health issues make it hard for him to get a regular job (although he’s open to offers). He had noticed the hawkers and thought that might work out for him.
“I had seen the guys out on the street and it didn’t seem like they were trying very hard,” Corne said. “I thought I could do better.”
He joined the hawker program, which provides the papers to vendors at 5 cents a paper. On a steamy summer day, about two weeks after he started selling the paper, he put out his first sign. It read, “Get yours before they melt.”
“It got a few smiles and it sold my papers,” said Corne, who eventually made Mission and Irvington his regular corner.
He has gained a cadre of regulars and his displays draw the approval of passing motorists. They usually give him more for the paper than his discount price of 25 cents.
“I love your corner,” one driver yelled as I sat talking to Corne.
Early on, Tucson police officers told Corne he couldn’t put his display up on the median or traffic poles. But that didn’t deter Corne.
“I called their supervisor and I was really respectful about it. I explained what I was trying to do,” he said, adding that the police have left him alone after the call.
The average hawker sells 20 to 30 newspapers each day. Corne sells 70 to 80 on Mondays and Tuesdays and about 100 Wednesdays through Sundays. He focuses on selling the Citizen, but sells about a dozen issues of the Arizona Daily Star each day and, of course, sells only the Star on Sundays.
Corne doesn’t have marketing experience but he has an innate understanding of how to sell the paper. He prominently displays the grocery ads on Wednesday and Calendar section on Thursdays. When sales are slow, he doesn’t pack up and go home. He just lowers the price to 10 cents.
Mark Torres, single copy sales manager for TNI, the company that prints and distributes the Citizen and Star, said of Corne, “He’s got to be one our top five salespeople.”
Corne’s income varies greatly. He makes anywhere from $30 to $100 in a day. He said his four children, all young adults, are embarrassed by his job. But he makes enough to keep a roof over his head and support a son who still lives with him.
“Ever since I lost my house, we haven’t had to spend a single day on the streets,” Corne said. ” I haven’t had to go to a shelter or get a food box.”
Once the Citizen stops publishing, Corne will get to his corner earlier in the day and focus his efforts on selling the Star.
I’ve often wished as I’ve driven past Corne on the median that people much higher in the Gannett food chain had his passion for and belief in our product. I told Corne I’m appreciative of his efforts.
I’ll share his response even though it will provide a cheap laugh for the Citizen’s harshest critics.
“My mother said, if all you do is shovel s***, be the best s*** shoveler you can be,” Corne said.
Folks, I can assure you from the sincere affection that Corne expressed for the Citizen that he wasn’t comparing this newspaper to excrement. He was exhorting the value of doing the best job you can, which is what the Citizen staff has strived for as long as I’ve been here and, I’m pretty sure, for the 100-plus years before that.
“I’ll be sad to see it go,” Corne said. “We got the Citizen when I was a little kid. My grandmother was a subscriber. It’s how I learned to read.”
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767.