Willy O. at his table on Sixth Ave.
Vendors wrote the book on First Amendment rights
Interviews by Esther Martin
Anonymous book vendor on Sixth Ave. between Eighth St. and Waverly Pl.:
So I assume youre familiar with your right to sell books under the First Amendment?
Yes, and all I sell are reading materials, or movies. Its all under freedom of speech.
Do you take your table and materials away at night or leave it all here on the sidewalk?
I leave everything out, like this, at night, just wrapped up under the plastic.
How do you get your merchandise?
Some of it people donate. Like if someone is moving, they dont need their stuff anymore, they might tell me and I go pick it up. Some of it I buy I mean, I try to keep really nice stuff. Stuff like the art books, you generally have to buy. People arent just going to give that away, you know?
What sells the best?
I sell good books, literature, you know? Thats mainly what I do. People stop here before they get to Barnes & Noble, even people with money, because whats the point of spending $25 on a book in there if you can come to me and Ill sell it to you for $5? And magazines, the old magazines, they generally sell to, like, fashion designers. I had a lady come the other day and she bought about $50 in only British Vogues. Thats the kind of stuff that sells.
Is this your only job? How long have you been a book vendor?
This is what I do for a living. Im trying to put my kids through college. Ive been doing this for a really long, long time. Once the weather gets good, Im out here all the time, as much as I can. I do that so I dont have to be out so much when its colder out. When its warmer out, I come out here on Thursday and I dont leave until Saturday morning, 24/7. Last week, I did that. Today, Im coming out here around 12, Ill probably stay till around 9 oclock, and thats pretty average.
Do the police ever bother you?
Not that often, you know? But sometimes they come through and say, You cant leave it unattended at night, it has to be stored, and then they throw it all out. They come through with a trash truck and just dump everything. If you arent with your table, it all gets thrown away.
What do you do when that happens?
I try to find some more tables so that I can keep doing my job! Its not that much of a problem. I dont really have anything against them. Whenever that happens, I just start over, get more donations, call up the people I know and tell them what happened, and then I just rebuild again. It hasnt happened very recently, not for several months.
Some of the guys out here sell vintage Playboys. Do you?
Well yeah, I sell old Playboys, Penthouse, that kind of stuff. Its all reading material, you know? Thats what somebody wants to read.
I have all kinds of that stuff, Im just a businessman, you know? With all that stuff, though, you just cant have it exposed, you dont want to have that on the street where little kids can just walk by and see whatever. Thats what I keep under the table in the bins.
Collectors look for that stuff, the old Playboys. There are articles in those that people want to read. You could go on eBay for that, too, but then it costs you more than coming to me. On eBay, if you buy a magazine for 10 bucks, in the end it costs 15, with shipping and all that. If you were to just come to me, it would just be 10 bucks in the first place.
Do you sell anything besides books?
I have a lot of movies, too never bootlegs, I dont believe in piracy at all. Plus, that can get you in trouble with the cops. I get a lot of VHS tapes from people moving out, or say if someone got a DVD player and cant use them anymore.
Do you need a license or anything to be a vendor out here?
No, not since all Im selling is covered by the freedom of speech, you know? Movies, videos, its still freedom of speech, just youre watching instead of reading. You dont need a license to do this.
Willy O. book vendor on Sixth Ave. at Waverly Pl.:
Are you aware of your right to sell books?
Yes, I know my rights. The police dont really bother you if you have a tax stamp. All you need is a tax stamp.
Is this your only job?
Right now, this is what I do for a living, and Ive been doing it for a long time. All the guys up here are regulars. Ive had this stand for a long time. I spent the night out here last night, but Im not going to do that again today. I need my rest!
Who are your main customers?
Just the general population.
Do you sell old Playboys?
If I can find old Playboys, I want those! Those sell. People collect those. Thats what people come and ask for. I dont have any right now, but Id take them if I found them. Those are what you gotta keep under the table, where the kids cant see them. Thats what you can get in trouble for.
Do the police clean you out that often?
That only happens at night, when you leave your stuff on the sidewalk. They say you cant just leave it, and sometimes they come by with a trash truck and just throw everything away, everything along this whole strip. It hasnt happened that much recently, the last time was sometime last year, in September or October. Back in the day, that used to happen all the time, Id say like every week or so.
Do passersby ever say anything negative?
Theres a lady who walks by, and anytime she sees any porn out a Playboy or anything more hardcore says shes gonna call the police. Its pretty much just leaving the Playboy and hardcore stuff out that gets the complaints. The police come when they get a complaint from the community, and that usually only happens when theres some hardcore stuff lying around.