A news vendor is the story as she fights for her stand
BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | The community is rallying behind a longtime Chinatown newsstand operator who the city wants to displace over a technicality. Community Board 3 members, state and city officials and local residents joined together last week to ask the city’s Department of Transportation to cease its efforts to boot the newsstand from its current location on the southwest corner of Bowery and Pell St.
The newsstand’s owner, Marilyn Louie, inherited the stand at 18 Bowery from her father in 1982, after the World War II vet passed away. Louie said she was recently told by D.O.T. officials that her stand is a few inches too close to the building it faces.
“They came and measured my stand and said it was 3 inches too short for a clear path,” Louie told C.B. 3’s full board at its Feb. 28 meeting.
She said the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs won’t issue her a license to operate unless her business is approved by D.O.T.
Louie earlier had appeared at C.B. 3’s Transportation Committee meeting where she explained that her clash with city agencies started when officials began measuring her stand as part of a citywide effort to convert all 330 newsstands and replace them with sleek, silver models operated by the contractor Cemusa.
At C.B. 3’s full board meeting, attended by about 75 people, many of them supporters of the news vendor, Louie pleaded with the board to help save her newsstand.
“I’ve run this business for 35 years,” she said. “I’m a single mother and I work there seven days a week. All they have to do is move my stand back 2 feet and it would be perfect. So I need your help. My father fought for this country and I hope you will now fight for me.”
C.B. 3 members overwhelmingly pledged their support, and so did representatives of several local politicians who attended the meeting.
Zach Bommer, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said Silver thought “it was ridiculous that the newsstand should be removed over 3 inches. The speaker is fighting against it,” Bommer said.
Others offering strong support for the newspaper vendor included state Senator Daniel Squadron, Councilmember Rosie Mendez and Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
Board member Anne Johnson told her fellow board members, “We really need to support [Louie] and make the mayor stop this nonsense.” Johnson was joined by fellow board member Tom Parker, who said he used to work as a newspaper vendor.
“Let’s support her unanimously,” Parker said. “The number of newsstands in New York City has been drastically reduced, and Chinatown needs this newsstand.”
Also offering her support was C.B. 3’s second vice chairperson, Gigi Li, who said she lived near the stand. Li said after the meeting, “Marilyn’s newsstand should definitely stay. Newsstands are what help to make neighborhoods and she has given back to the neighborhood. She’s running a small business that serves the community.”
Several local residents also spoke out strongly in support of the newspaper vendor, among them Arnold Kawano, managing director and general counsel for Harold L. Lee & Sons Insurance Service, at 31 Pell St.
“We’ve grown to rely on Marilyn’s newsstand,” Kawano said. “It’s the only stand in Chinatown that sells The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She’s very much part of the community. Instead of going after her, the city should go after the gambling buses that congest the neighborhood and pollute the air,” he added. “They’re the real problem — not a newsstand operator.”
After the meeting Louie said she was “gratified” by the outpouring of support, but remained uncertain about the outcome.
“I’m still confused,” she said. “Nobody’s telling me that I will be grandfathered and can still stay there or will I be moved somewhere across the street. Will I still be here 35 years from now?”
Meanwhile, in a recent interview, D.O.T. spokeswoman Nicole Garcia quoted the city’s Administrative Code. She said Louie’s current newsstand site “does not meet the criteria specified by law. The shelter’s current clear path is 3 inches less that the required nine-and-a-half-feet distance and the stand is 4 inches too close to the curb.”