Proposal Is Due For Formal Introduction In City Council Later This Month

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The newsstands that dot the city’s sidewalks would be able to stock cellphone chargers, offer more batteries and, perhaps most importantly, upgrade their umbrellas under a proposal broached Monday to double a price cap on their wares.

Newsstand operators and supporters said the City Council proposal to lift the more than decade-old limit from $5 to $10 would help the venerable businesses keep up with the times.

“With $5, what can you get?” asked Jay Patel, 63, who has run a newsstand a few blocks from Penn Station since 1981. His brother, Mike, has manned a stand near City Hall for about 30 years.

The two, originally from Ahmedabad, India, said the price cap keeps them from offering sunglasses, disposable cameras, some tourist maps and souvenirs and some other things customers seek, but they could provide those items for less than $10.

Newsstands have been part of the streetscape in on-the-go New York for decades, selling newspapers, magazines, candy, cigarettes and other items. But their numbers have dropped in recent decades. There were nearly 1,600 of the sidewalk kiosks in the 1950s, compared with about 300 now, according to the NYC Newsstand Operators Association.

Proprietors said the stands have become less profitable because of factors ranging from the city’s high cigarette taxes to the rise of online versions of the print newspapers and magazines they sell.

Many have tried to supplement their business by adding such offerings as lottery machines and refrigerators to sell cold drinks. But some said they’ve had to drop other items, including packs of brand-name batteries and large packs of candy, as retail prices rose past the cap.

The pre-tax, retail, per-item price cap was raised from $2 to $5 in 2002, and the City Council’s leader and some colleagues said it’s time to boost it again.

“The $4 umbrella in 2002 isn’t the same as the $4 umbrella of 2012 or 2013,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said Monday at a news conference outside a lower Manhattan newsstand. “The $4 umbrella in 2013? You’re lucky if it’s going to get you to the corner, keeping you dry.”

Quinn said the on-the-go needs of New Yorkers have also changed with the times. The council speaker said newsstands currently can’t offer certain everyday items because they’d exceed the price cap.

“Cell phone chargers or ear buds,” Quinn told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.

Quinn told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon that the legislation is a win-win for consumers as well as newsstand owners.

“We want to make sure that New York’s iconic newsstands are meeting the needs of New Yorkers, but also make sure those hardworking folks who are running newsstands have the right ability to sell things at fair prices so they could keep making money and supporting themselves and their families,” Quinn said.

“This is going to help make sure the 300 newsstands in our city really remain robust small businesses that help those 300 families stay in New York’s middle class,” the council speaker told Silverman.

Quinn said the new $10 limit has enough support to become law.

Robert Bookman, who represents the New York City Newsstand Operators Association, said what New Yorkers and tourists need has changed over the years along with prices, and newsstands should be able to sell “chargers, cell phone cases, guidebooks, packs of Duracell batteries – all these cost more than $5.”

So does a decent umbrella, Bookman told Rincon.

Backers also note that the stands are nothing if not small businesses — they generally measure about 50 to 60 square feet — and often serve as entry-level work opportunities for immigrants. Proprietors generally license the stands from the city and a private vendor.

The price limit is meant partly to ensure that the sidewalk stands don’t evolve into mini-marts or convenience stores, Quinn said; they also are barred from selling clothes, jewelry, handbags and some other items. The New York State Association of Convenience Stores had no immediate comment on Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz’ price cap proposal, which is due for a formal introduction in the council later this month.

Publications and prepaid phone and transit cards would continue to be exempt from the price limit.

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