Old-time newsstands fret over New York cleanup campaign
Jul. 23, 1997
NEW YORK (AP) _ David Hoffman has survived it all in his dented shoebox of a newsstand on Lexington Avenue. In winter, snowstorms howled. In summer, the streets baked. Newspapers shut down. His eyes got bad.
Still, each weekday before dawn, the Korean War veteran arrives for work at the same intersection where his father used to hawk the day's news to commuters dashing from Grand Central station.
Patting a change belt greasy with tabloid ink, he fondly calls the newsstand his bread and butter.
Now, he wonders if it all might change.
New York, the media capital of the world, is planning a makeover for one of its trademark _ if often scruffy _ institutions: the sidewalk newsstand.
In 1950, more than 1,500 newsstands dotted Gotham's streets, but critics like Mayor Rudolph Giuliani say the remaining 300 or so have become little more than rickety, graffiti-covered bunkers of wood and painted-over sheet metal that operate under an outdated sweetheart deal with the city.
Giuliani _ whose cleanup campaign has taken on everything from the mob-infiltrated Fulton Fish Market to rude panhandlers _ pushed through a law that over the next few years will replace every newsstand with a stylish uniform design while boosting rents from about $500 a year to as much as $5,000.
The change, City Hall says, will make the busy sidewalks more attractive and orderly and yield rental income that reflects the profitable locations the newsstands occupy.
Some see the higher costs as a threat to the mom-and-pop-type operators who have been the backbone of the trade.
``It's unrealistic they expect the newsstands to stay in business. If I sold rubber bands I'd make more profit,'' grumbled Hoffman, whose father died at the doorway of his stand in 1971. ``Where does the news dealer stand a chance?''
``The price is going up, up, up,'' said Saleem Faiz, a Pakistani immigrant who works at a newsstand in the Wall Street area. ``I just pray to God.''
Sidewalk newsstands proliferated in New York after World War I, along with the rise of spicy tabloids like the Daily News. The stands were successors to newsies, the rough-and-tumble kids who once sold newspapers on street corners with shouts of ``Extra! Read all about it!''
Harried New Yorkers can snare a newspaper or pack of gum while barely breaking stride.
Over the years, newsstands have provided an entry-level job for entrepreneurs, most recently many Pakistani immigrants. In a holdover from the war years, the regulations give preference to the disabled and veterans in getting licenses, although today most licenses are held by others.
Under the new law, ownership of the stands will shift from operators to a single franchise that will rebuild them and then maintain them along with 100 new sites. The operators will move into the new stands as they are built.
Instead of a $538-a-year license fee from news dealers, the city will collect rents of up to $5,000 and take a cut of revenue from advertising posted on the newsstands. That could yield millions for the city.
Newsstand operators fear that if the higher rents don't drive them out, a big company will someday seize control of their livelihood _ despite the city's assurances that that won't happen.
``Once the newsstands are no longer owned by the operators, which will be happening soon, it's not a big leap from there to say we are going to have one entity operate all newsstands,'' said Robert Bookman, an attorney for most of the city's 330 licensed newsstands.
Newspaper publishers, many of whom rely heavily on newsstand sales, generally are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Along with the major dailies, newsstands distribute a host of foreign and community papers such as the Irish Echo to the Russian-language Novoye Russkoye Slovo.
``Taking some sort of charge of them where there isn't a litter of any old thing on any old corner probably does make sense,'' said Wilbur Ross, who publishes such weekly papers as The Westsider and the Chelsea Clinton News. ``I'm quite comfortable it's not going to bother us.''