No News Is Good News

Community Board 1 (CB1) is urging the City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to reject an application by a Tribeca newsstand operator to open a second kiosk one block away from his current location. The applicant, Abdur Patwary, first came before CB1 in 2010, with a request to open a newsstand at the northwest corner of Murray and Greenwich Streets. CB1 supported this application.

But in December, 2016, Mr. Patwary came back before the panel, asking for support in his request to open another newsstand one block to the north, at the southwest corner of Warren and Greenwich Streets. (This location would be directly in front of the entrance Whole Foods, and adjacent to a Citi Bike kiosk.)

At its December 21 meeting, CB1 passed a resolution opposing this request, noting that, “the proposed location for this newsstand is not suitable due to very heavy pedestrian traffic and commercial use resulting from the presence nearby of several large stores, including Whole Foods, which draw large numbers of pedestrians throughout the day and evening and make extensive use of the sidewalk for deliveries.”

If Mr. Patwary’s request is approved — the final decision on his application rests with the DCA, which regulates newsstands — it would be the third such establishment in a two-block street of Greenwich Street. (There is another newsstand at the northwest corner Barclay and Greenwich Streets.)

 The proposed location of a second newsstand that Mr. Patwary hopes to open (but which Community Board 1 opposed) at the southwest corner of Warren and Greenwich Streets.

The proposed location of a second newsstand that Mr. Patwary hopes to open (but which Community Board 1 opposed) at the southwest corner of Warren and Greenwich Streets.

Business such as Mr. Patwary’s may be a dying breed in New York: There were more than 1,500 sidewalk newsstands in the five boroughs of New York City during the 1950s, but only slightly more than 300 remain today. While sales of newspapers and magazines have dwindled with the proliferation of electronic media, the industry has sought to adapt. Today, lottery tickets are the single biggest source of revenue for operators, followed by tobacco products. Mr. Patwary’s newsstand was fined in 2013 by the New York State Department of Health’s Tobacco Enforcement Program, which periodically recruits teenagers and sends them to cigarette sellers, to determine whether smoking products are being sold to underage customers. In this respect, Mr. Patwary’s newsstand is far from unique: More than 100 Lower Manhattan retailers have been fined in recent years by the State regulators for selling tobacco products to minors, or for failing to display legally required signage. Some (Mr. Patwary not among them) have also been charged with the serious criminal offense of selling “bootlegged” cigarettes. This refers to the practice of legally purchasing cigarettes in another jurisdiction where taxes on tobacco are lower, then smuggling them into New York and charging market-rate prices without paying the local taxes. New York State and City impose a combined excise tax of $5.85 on every pack of cigarettes sold — the highest such levy in the nation. This means that a bootlegger can reap a profit of almost $60 for every carton smuggled. Official estimates suggest that more than half of all the cigarettes sold in New York City are smuggled in from other states.

But if a newsstand operator can navigate the many challenges the industry poses, there are some benefits. The City does not charge newsstand operators any rent. Rather, the licensing fee that permits a kiosk to occupy a street corner is priced at $1,076 for two years. (This contrasts with news vendors in subway and commuter rail stations, which pay their landlord, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as much as $30,000 in annual rent.) In another encouraging development, the City Council in 2013 enacted a measure that boosted the maximum price a newsstand can charge for any of its merchandise from $5 to $10. (There are some exceptions to this limit, such as cigarettes.) As a result, sidewalk newsstands in prime locations can gross more than $300,000 per year — but the razor-thin margins on most of their merchandise hold profits at most vendors to the low five figures.

A source of revenue that might improve the bottom line for operators (the newsstand industry is dominated by new Americans, particularly those — like Mr. Patwary — from South Asia) is the advertising banners that appear on the sides and backs of the structures. But all earnings from these go to Cemusa, the outdoor advertising company that pays the City for the exclusive right to sell these ads. In exchange, the company builds and maintains the structures all of New York’s newsstands, as well as more than 3,000 bus shelters.

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