Elizabeth Willis Says City Is Using Trumped-Up Charges, Fines To End Her Business And She's Ready To Go To Court Over It


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A long-standing feud between a newsstand operator and the city could mean the end of an era for a Midtown staple.

On Monday, CBS2’s Jessica Moore met Elizabeth Willis, who says the city is trying to bully her out of business.

Adem Clemons is one of the regulars at Willis’ Times Square newsstand.

“Not only can I get candy and news but a joke. She always brightens my day,” said Clemons, who hails from Washington Heights.

“I love talking to people, running my mouth, making people smile,” Willis said.

A woman who has run a newsstand in Times Square for more than 50 years is at odds with the city. (Photo: CBS2)

And that’s exactly what Willis has been doing every day since 1967.

But now, a letter from the city has threatened to shut her down over missing an automatic payment in a plan set up to pay off past fines.

The letter reads in part: “You are directed to surrender your license immediately. Operating with a suspended license will subject you to civil penalties and other sanctions.”

“I told them I wasn’t going to give them another dime on all these trumped-up charges,” Willis said.

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Willis said the city is so desperate to kick her out, inspectors keep hitting her with charges and fines for things like installing lights outside her newsstand and selling hats and gloves in the winter.

“The base issue is they want Mr. Willis out of here and they are attempting to harass her out of business,” attorney Peter Gleason said.

Gleason points to a 2006 court ruling showing Willis is grandfathered in under old policy, which was much more lenient with rules and fines.

“It’s almost like the boot camp recruit can give no right answer to the drill instructor and in this case the drill instructor is the City of New York and the Department of Consumer Affairs,” Gleason said.

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That department told CBS2’s Moore in a statement Willis currently owes nearly $5,000 for past violations and, “Once she pays her outstanding fines and comes into compliance with the law, she will be able to continue to operate the newsstand that she has called home.”

“I want them to leave me alone,” Willis said in response.

She said she’ll take the city to court before paying another dime.

The Department of Consumer Affairs told CBS2 Willis is currently operating her newsstand illegally, after it suspended her license over unpaid fines.

Willis’ attorney promises to take her fight to court if necessary.