Adam Petrella, 85, newsstand owner who had an artist’s soul


By Albert Amateau

Adam Petrella, who operated an idiosyncratic newsstand at the Bowery and Canal St. for 30 years and lived on the sixth floor of a walk-up nearby on Forsyth St., died two weeks ago in Florida while visiting his brother.

He was about 85 and had served in the Army during World War II, according to his friend Steve Stollman.

Until two years ago, Petrella’s Newsstand served as a neighborhood beacon, painted bright red with white lettering that said “Tourists Welcome” and arrows pointing the way to surrounding blocks. A bank branch at the corner removed the stand two years ago without Petrella’s knowledge but replaced it with a more conventional structure a month later when outraged friends threatened to alert the press about the loss to the neighborhood fixture.

“His is the story of a proud New Yorker who persevered and documented three decades of change on the Bowery. He is a true and significant source of inspiration for our own small museum,” said Dave Herman, president of the City Reliquary Museum in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

An artist, Petrella made frequent drawings and paintings of the late kung fu star Bruce Lee and sold them or gave them away to his Chinatown customers. One of his Bruce Lee drawings was posted on the original red newsstand and was saved by the City Reliquary Museum.

A sister in Florida with whom he had been close died three years ago and left him a small inheritance enabling him to buy a Cadillac, which he soon gave to his nephew, Frank Petrella, in Florida, Stollman said.

The fate of the now more conventional newsstand is in limbo but will be decided by the Consumer Affairs and Transportation departments. Frank Petrella is thinking of applying to the city to take over the stand, Stollman said.