Late last month, multiple local publications reported that their boxes were missing from the streets of downtown Asheville. Last Thursday, some of the boxes were found in an abandoned Haywood Street parking garage. There is no word yet on who put them there.
Sammy Cox, of Grassroutes Distribution, makes sure a number of publications, including the Laurel of Asheville and Blue Ridge Outdoors, reach the streets. He writes in an email to Xpress that he first noticed the Laurel's box in front of Woolworth Walk, a box he'd stocked two days earlier, missing Nov. 21. On Nov. 23, he noticed that another box near Tressa's was also gone.
"I also noticed that someone or group had reconfigured various arrays of equipment at a couple of other locations," Cox writes. "In one case, it was apparent that additional publications' boxes were removed and some areas had been swept clean of leaves and debris."
He recalls that the same day a homeless individual told him there were newspaper boxes stowed in a parking garage. Cox then checked all the active garages, but didn't find the boxes. Last Thursday, Dec. 5, city parking attendants found the boxes in the garage and notified Cox.
According to city spokesperson Brian Postelle, the attendants initially found the boxes at the rear of the old garage, but moved them to the front so the publications could remove them. He notes that the building is slated for demolition by the city, and is unsafe.
He adds that the city did not remove the boxes originally, and doesn't know who did. Last week, the Asheville Police Department said the last reported theft of a newspaper box was several months ago.
Last month, a survey done by Xpress Distribution Manager Jeff Tallman found that after counting for moved to another part of town or removed by defunct publications, nearly 50 were missing from downtown since February 2012. While boxes can disappear for many reasons, in late November multiple publications reported that boxes had gone missing in recent weeks. Shoji Spas, for example, saw almost all of the boxes for their advertising booklet vanish, until they were found in the garage.
For his part, Cox believes that there's not a continuous problem with boxes disappearing downtown, and that these disappearances are "the first incident of a concerted effort to remove unattended boxes in at least 6-7 years."
The locations and condition of newspaper boxes downtown has occasionally emerged as a controversial issue in the last few years. City staff and some members of the Downtown Commission have asserted that many of the boxes were an eyesore that might require regulation. But multiple U.S. Supreme Court rulings sharply restrict government's ability to remove publications from public space, and attempts to put some kind of regulations in place faltered. 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.
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