West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 4 | June 27 - July 3, 2007

The newsstand at Thompson and W. Third Sts. before it was closed last December.

Newsstand’s closure is a sorry story, neighbors say

By Audrey Tempelsman

According to Andrew Gold, who lives next to the newsstand at Thompson and W. Third Sts., the kiosk gave the community more than magazines, soda and candy.

“It kept a watchful eye on the neighborhood,” he said. 

For 80 years, the newsstand has remained on the same block. Decades ago, its vendors sold fruit-flavored ices to the Italian immigrant neighborhood.  

At the time the Department of Consumer Affairs shut down the stand last December, the business was run by two brothers, Afzal and Altab Shaikh.  

Afzal came to the United States in 1993 and now lives in Queens. He has a wife and two young sons, one of whom was born last May. 

For five years, the brothers would open the stand at 7 a.m. and close at midnight on weeknights and close at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on weekends. Before his wife joined him from India, Afzal would work at the stand for 24-hour shifts, several times a week. 

Because of how much they worked there, Afzal said, the brothers “knew each and every person” in the area. “Every building has a superintendent,” he said. “And we used to joke with everybody that we are the supers for the neighborhood.” 

Residents of the block would often ask the brothers to sign for packages, if the UPS truck came by while they were at work; and the brothers would ask residents to keep an eye on the stand when they needed to take a bathroom break.  

“The newsstand was an integral part of what made this neighborhood a neighborhood,” said Stacy Kaufman, who has lived next door to the newsstand since 1980. 

According to Kaufman, the brothers would prevent stragglers from drinking on the stoop of her building. 

She recalled the time a man broke into the cash register of the Thompson Street Garage and fled. The brothers’ call to the police resulted in the burglar’s apprehension.  

And when an elderly resident collapsed near the newsstand several years ago, the brothers were the first to respond, Gold said. 

Gold and Kaufman insist that since D.C.A. shut down the newsstand in December, crime on the block has escalated dramatically. 

Just weeks after the closure, Gold reported that acts of vandalism began occurring at the building. Graffiti now stains the walls, he said, and crack pipes, broken bottles and other debris litter the stoop. 

About three weeks ago, a man assaulted two female residents and entered the building, Gold said. When Gold learned of the break-in, he grabbed a baseball bat and chased the perpetrator out of the premises.

“For me, this has become a safety issue,” Gold said. “These sorts of things never, ever happened when the newsstand was open.” 

The reasoning behind the closure is confusing both to residents and officials.  

Dina Improta Roskin, a D.C.A. spokesperson, said, “The city cannot grant permission for a newsstand located under a fire escape and that significantly blocks the sidewalk.”  

However, City Councilmember Alan Gerson said that in a recent conversation with the Fire Department, he was told the newsstand posed “no fire-safety concern.”

Having resolved this part of the issue, he met with D.C.A. and Department of Transportation representatives at the site. Despite his efforts, he was informed that the law simply could not be changed. 

“This is an example of government regulations working against government public policy,” said Gerson. “It’s been a terrible bureaucratic Catch-22.” 

Gerson said the situation reminded him of the famous quote from Dickens, “The law is an ass.”  

Since D.C.A. shut down the newsstand, Shaikh and his brother have had difficulty finding work.  

“It has been hard for us,” said Shaikh. “He has two kids, I have two kids. We can’t just sit at home, but we can’t find a full-time job. We’re working here and there, trying to make food money and rent.” 

Meanwhile, neighborhood residents have gathered hundreds of signatures to petition for the newsstand’s return.  

“Just because several months have passed, doesn’t mean that the community feels any less strongly about this,” said Kaufman. “We want to see the newsstand back.”

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