For sentimental ink-stained wretches of a certain age, it’s a memento. To readers of The Sacramento Bee looking for cool home projects, it’s an opportunity.
Full disclosure: For this reporter and others connected to the 163-year-old institution, it’s a little bit of both.
For two days this month, The Bee’s Audience Department will make available roughly 200 newspaper “honor boxes” free to readers — as the newspaper culls its army of the once-ubiquitous blue and white racks seen across the capital region.
The events are not part of The Bee’s larger impending move from its longtime home at 21st and Q streets but a response to changes in how people buy the newspaper, which were accelerated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Craig Webber, operations coordinator for The Bee and its brethren in Modesto and Merced, said while newsstand readers are still buying the paper, most prefer to buy it at the checkout counter of a convenience or grocery store. And the boxes accept only quarters, which have been harder to come by as the coronavirus locked down the capital region and kept loose change from circulating across the country.
The Bee’s readership and subscriber base continue to grow, mainly online. Webber said lower-demand racks are being phased out, though the enclosed, all-weather boxes will still be in high-traffic areas of Northern California.
That meant many of the hundreds of 40-pound boxes in The Bee’s back lot were destined for the scrap heap.
New life for old boxes
Webber and his team have been quietly giving away the racks for a while after a reader emailed him asking for one. Kendra Asbury, a schoolteacher in Tahoe Park, reached out to Webber after wanting to add building a lending library to her ever-growing list of stay-at-home projects in August: “I love me a good home project.”
When she went to pick up the box, she asked Webber if she could share the find and his info online in case others wanted one, too. Webber said sure, thinking maybe 20 or 30 people would reach out for the bulky boxes.
“I asked him three times, ‘Are you sure?’“ Asbury said, knowing friends would want a box, too, as COVID-inspired projects to keep busy. But even she was surprised by the demand.
That first giveaway “backed up traffic all the way down the street,” Webber said. More than 200 people lined up to give these sheet metal contraptions a new forever home.
“What did you do?” said a friend of Asbury’s who called her from the back of the line.
Just what is an old newspaper vending box good for anyway? Webber said those who have stopped by told him they were using it for everything from a garden incubator to a frame for a single-tap keg refrigerator. C.K. McClatchy High School’s journalism program picked up 25 to distribute The Prospector newspaper when it returns to in-person learning.
One Sacramento artist, Julian Sandpaper, got his hands on four of the machines back in June to repurpose them into bee hives.
The biggest — and Webber said best — use for the boxes has been in creating community connection points like Asbury plans to do. Webber estimated several dozen were slated to become lending libraries, community pantries and drop boxes for neighborhoods across the Sacramento region.
Webber said another teacher picked one up as a way for students to drop off homework and pick up items weekly.
How to get a box
While they are free for the taking, The Bee insists three stipulations must be met for any would-be owner: You must come and pick it up yourself from our midtown Sacramento hub; once home, the boxes must have The Bee’s logo and blue shellac scheme scraped off, painted over or otherwise removed; and the boxes cannot be resold.
Oh, and bring a mask; we’ll be observing social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions.
Webber recommended a pickup truck or some type of large vehicle to cart one of these home. The trunk of a sedan isn’t going to work (this reporter has tried). The boxes are roughly 40 inches tall, 20 inches wide and 16 inches deep.
Webber is personally working with readers who are interested in getting a box the next two Tuesdays in the late afternoon. To get on the list, simply email him at [email protected] before 5 p.m. Monday. He’ll send you back the time, directions and go over the fine print to make the process run smoothly. And, yes, you have to be on his list to get a box.
Webber said future pick-up dates may be in the cards if the demand continues to exceed expectations.