Print Is Eternal, And So Is the Legacy This Newsstand Leaves Behind
After 33 years, Benny Dahud's East Village magazine storefront, Ink, is closing. But the impact it made on its neighborhood is forever.
Together with Whim Golf, we're shining a light on a one-of-a-kind store, its genesis story, and its owner, Benny Dahud. Over the last 8 weeks, Whim and Ink have shared an address at 66 Avenue A. After learning that Ben and Ink on A were being forced out of business by the building's new owner, we decided to celebrate Benny's legacy and the impact he made on his community.
If there is one industry that can single-handedly summarize New York City’s culture between the 1970s and 2000s, it’s print. More specifically, downtown’s most beloved magazine storefronts defined an era of tangible creativity. They circulated images, ideas, and thoughts. They facilitated reading and learning. They were, and still are, conduits for connection.
Just as newspaper and magazine distribution peaked in the 1980s, Ben “Benny” Dahud moved to New York’s East Village from Israel. With dreams of pursuing a new world of opportunities in New York City, he opened what became an essential spot in Saint Marks Place: Ink. Benny’s newsstand, which opened at 66 Avenue A 33 years ago, has since been open seven days a week.
While Benny's storefront closes tomorrow, the impact Ink has made on the neighborhood will long remain. In a conversation that took place on a bench on Avenue A, Benny tells us about making a home in the East Village, growing a community of customers and friends, and establishing a life in New York City — all while building a a neighborhood nexus, Ink.
Megan: When did you first move to New York?
Benny: It was in ‘88. I was born in Nazareth, Israel. I was a chef there, and the person I worked for asked me if I wanted to come to New York — Saint Mark’s Place. So I did.
M: So you landed right here in the East Village?
B: I arrived in this neighborhood, and I used the payphone at the corner of Saint Mark’s Place. I called the people I was working for, the restaurant. And I worked the second day I arrived.
And your first job here was as a chef?
B: Yes, at Mogador.
M: Which is still around, too. What were your early experiences like in New York?
B: I was in my twenties, and I hated it. I wanted to go back after six months. Saint Marks Place looked different back then. There were a lot of drug users. But I made friends and got used to it, and I decided to stay.
M: What did you miss about home?
B: Back home, in Israel, we had our own houses and the families were all together. We were close to each other. It was hard because it’s far away, like a 14-hour flight. I was young. I wanted to see my brother and my mom.
M: When did New York start to feel more bearable?
B: It’s like when you get to know a person, you don’t judge them from what they look like anymore. Once you know them, that’s when you start to like them. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it was just too far away. I have seven sisters and a brother, and that’s a big family. I had family around all the time, and I missed that.
M: It's true, that's such a good metaphor. What made you decide to stay in New York?
B: I got into business. While I was at Mogador, I started my magazine business. That’s what I came here for — for the work and the freedom and the people. Where I come from, the opportunities are very limited. There was opportunity here. Two years after working at Mogador, I started my own business selling print magazines.
M: So it began as a side hustle. What drew you to the world of print?
B: It was an accident. I was in the food business. I started my magazine business in the ‘90s with a guy who was a waiter at Mogador. I invested in the business and we started it together. And eventually, I started to run it myself. And I liked it. When I started to make deals and meet people, to run the business on my own, I went from liking it to loving it.
An assortment of magazines sold at Ink.
M: What made you love it?
B: The clientele. The money was good. I had many small jobs and businesses, restaurants I invested in and a moving company, but this was always the main thing. This was my main office. And I liked having my own business.
M: It sounds Ink gave you a sense of belonging. As the print industry has changed, how has your business changed?
B: The business is definitely not the same, at all. I had to put in some other items in the store to make sure we had other things to sell. My wife used to work in the store because she loved the customers we had at the beginning — models, people who worked at modeling agencies, people who liked to read, music people — but it’s not like that anymore. 90% of the whole store was magazines, and that part is just not the same.
M: Are there any glimmers of the old days that still take place in your store?
B: Every once in a while, we will still see some of our old customers. Or someone will ask us to display their magazine. We’ve had actors and movie stars come into the store to buy magazines.
M: In the beginning, was it hard running a business for the first time?
B: When I first started my business, Jason, my partner, spoke better English than I did. He negotiated our lease. Our landlord became our friend — he would advise us a lot. We were late on rent a few times in the beginning, and he was kind. He’d say, hey man, I like you and everything, but we have a business here to run. By the time I learned the business, I became good at it.
M: Wow, is he still your landlord?
B: No, he sadly passed away about 10 years ago. Then his brother took over, and then his daughter. It was a family business.
M: It sounds like community was a big part of your beginnings in New York and part of the reason why you stayed.
B: Of course. That’s why I’m still hanging on. I’m not any better than any of these people on the street in this neighborhood. I came from a very poor family. I slept in the street. I slept in the shelters. I understand these people very much. In my 30 years here, I’ve never had a problem with anybody.
M: No problems at all? That’s impressive.
B: None. I always solve my problems with a cigarette and a cup of coffee. I never have any problems in this place.
Benny's longest customer, Liz, holding a cup of coffee and a cigarette.
M: How would you describe your community here?
B: I’ve gotten to know so many types of people. I have all kinds of friends in this neighborhood — musicians, professors, teachers, homeless people, all kinds. It’s like a school. I still have customers who have been with me since the beginning, who still love print magazines. Coming from a small village, where I didn’t have a great life, I know how important it is to know and get along with everyone.
M: How do you feel about New York City?
B: It’s my house. I love it, even though it changes, I love it. It has become more about money. This block used to be just me and one other guy. Now, I need an hour to circle and find a parking spot. It’s not doable anymore. Everything has become expensive — tickets, fines, people are stressed. Hopefully it keeps changing.
M: In the early days of running Ink, what made it wonderful? What were the best parts about it?
B: It was about freedom. To have a store and make money. To do anything I want. And the people, of course. The people are what make it nice. If you go to heaven and it’s empty with no people, would you go there?
M: No, of course not.
B: Right. So it’s nothing without the people. It’s not about the money, although money is very important to me. I love money. We have to have it to live. When you have money, that’s an indication that you know what you’re doing. You have a brain.
M: If you could spend your days doing anything you wanted, and money was not an object, how would you spend your days?
B: I hate to tell you this, but I love action, so I would be doing something active. I can’t sit at home. I like noise. I never bought a big house because I like to be in a big city. I like to walk out the door and go to the grocery store and see people on the street. I love people. Only people make this world go around, nothing else.
M: The world of magazines is so representative of that, because it takes so many people to put one magazine together.
B: Exactly. And imagine having a store full of them.
M: Which magazines do you read?
B: Financial Times, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney, all of that stuff. They had a lot of business magazines before.
M: You really are a business man. What does the future of your business look like?
B: I hope paper will always be around. And I believe it will — it’s clean, nice, and knowledgeable. Paper isn’t going to go anywhere. If you have something very important, don’t you want it on paper?
M: If you weren’t the owner of Ink, what do you think you’d be doing?
B:I wanted to be a pilot, but I never got my license. In Jersey, it’s like $80 for a lesson. Before kids, I did that. I was into sports, too. But I had to stop all of that. Everything’s gone once you have your first baby. You have to choose.
M: Yeah, it sounds like you made some sacrifices.
B: Yes, sacrifice. But, there’s absolutely nothing like having a baby.
(Interruption, customer approaches)
Liz: Ben’s getting interviewed?
Ben: Liz! Hey, why don’t you come to me anymore?
Liz: I’m going there right now, by the way!
M: How long have you known Liz?
B: She’s been coming into my store since we opened. Liz, you’re not going to believe it, but I met her while I was still at Mogador. She was a drug addict, and she used to come in and give us hell. Then she finally got her shit together, she got married and she had a son. I’m very proud of her. She was strong that way.
Anyway, I was saying this about having kids — feelings-wise, seeing this person that’s a little bit of you is amazing. It made the sacrifice worth it. Before I had my first baby, my life was just hanging out, doing stuff. It becomes boring after a while. They give you energy. I never got my life together, financially, until I had my first baby. I had to become responsible.
M: How old were you when you had your first kid?
B: 26. I was very young. My kids are bigger than me now.
M: Do you think your kids will take over your business?
B: One is 26. She’s married and lives in Jersey. She works in medicine and is getting her masters. One is 24, he’s like me and can’t concentrate. He’s a physical therapist. And I have a 19 year-old. He works in tech, he just came back from working on a project for Apple. He’s a genius.
M: Do you think that’s nature or nurture?
B: They’re both very smart. I think they got it from me. (Laughs) They have a good father! What’s wrong with you!
M: Do you think there’s a necessity in print magazines?
B: Yes. I always say, not buying magazines or print paper is like working from home. You can’t just be a robot. You need to leave the house, hold something, flip pages. It’s good for you and your brain. You can’t just be staring at a screen all day long. This is the biggest problem for kids today. Get out, walk, read something.
M: It’s an antidote.
B: Yes, exactly. Holding a magazine, or choosing to go out and read print, is just an example of slowing down and choosing something other than all of the things that stress us out today. People who buy magazines are calm, they mind their own business, they’re good people.
M: You’re probably one of the few people who sees enough people buying magazines to be able to say who they are.
B: Yeah. I’ve seen all of them. This guy loves reading, but also he wants to hold the paper. It’s a way to be part of the world around you. People still come in and spend a few hundred dollars on magazines.
M: What will you do next?
B: Every happy story has sad parts, and I’ve seen it. Over thirty years, I’ve seen it all. Now that I have a little money, I’m planning on going back to magazines full-time even if I don’t make money from it. I have the knowledge from before. I used to buy magazines from overseas and distribute them — I had Japanese magazines, Italian magazines. We all did. It was the best time.
M: Are you friends with the other magazine store owners?
B: Of course. We know each other. We shared tips and helped each other out. I don’t believe in hiding that stuff. This is New York. There’s a place for everybody.