Editorial: It's time for the $10 newsstand umbrella
Council Speaker Christine Quinn last week announced a plan to double -- from $5 to $10 -- the price cap on items that can be sold at sidewalk newsstands.
Her proclamation amazed more than a few New Yorkers: Who knew that streetcorner newsstand owners have to petition the City Council to sell a useful $10 umbrella -- instead of the water-soluble $4 version -- here in the heart of global capitalism?
The familiar axiom is that it's all about the real estate in New York City, and that's certainly true. But in Manhattan it's also mathematical. The island is slightly less than 34 square miles. Within that space on an average weekday you'll find about 4 million workers and residents. Who stands where, who walks where, who drives where becomes a matter of fierce and ceaseless contention.
Meanwhile, who sells what, where they can sell it, and how much they can ask, becomes blood sport, sometimes settled with fists on the sidewalks but more routinely with lawyers at City Hall. Presiding over this spectacle -- like Soviet-era commissars -- are City Council members.
The price cap on newsstands is meant to keep those enterprises from turning into minimarts that vie with rent-paying bodegas. But the rules quickly get complex. Phone cards, transit passes, newspapers, magazines and cigarettes are not capped. Batteries in large packs, electronic charging devices, candy and umbrellas are.
The caps can gnaw away at profits fast, not to mention quality. Quinn noted that today's $4 newsstand umbrella is starkly inferior to the $4 umbrella of a decade ago. Today when it rains, buyers and sellers both get soaked. The cap was last raised in 2002 when it went from $2 to $5.
The solution today? The newsstands need a break. New Yorkers need sidewalk conveniences. Bodegas need a shield against unfair competition. And someone has to arbitrate this crazy scrum. So bring on the lawyers. Bring on the commissars. And raise the cap.