One thing you won’t find at a lot of New York newsstands is the news - no newspapers anymore, nor magazines. Print media is bulky, the profit margin low, and the content is old by the time it hits the street. Better to devote the shelf space to $3 Snickers and $4 Cokes.
You won’t see cigarettes being sold, either; at $13 a pack, there aren’t many takers. It’s not that everybody quit smoking, but rather that the sale of smuggled, untaxed cigarettes for 8 or 9 dollars (75 cents for a loosie) far exceeds the legal business.
For a long time, there was a $5-per-item price cap on what newsstands could sell; nothing could retail for more than five bucks, so that the stands wouldn’t take business from the mom-and-pop convenience stores and bodegas. A five-dollar umbrella functions pretty well in a light mist, on a windless day, if you’re standing still; otherwise, not so much. The cap was raised to ten dollars, and now a newsstand umbrella will get you as far as the next subway entrance.
You might notice, too, if you roam around the city, that the newsstands all look pretty much alike. They used to be owner-operated, and constructed to the taste (and budget) of each owner; you paid for a license, and built what you could afford. There was a lot of variety, and ingenuity, on display. About ten years ago, the city struck a deal with a Spanish firm, Cemusa, to build and operate the city’s newsstands and bus shelters, and these steel-and-glass boxes have replaced the old stands; Giuliani and Bloomberg wanted neat and tidy streets, not “a hodgepodge of unattractive things”, as the billionaire Mayor put it.
Jane Jacobs, who wrote about the qualities that make a city come alive, once said:
“To approach a city as if it were an architectural problem is to make the mistake of attempting to substitute art for life. The results are neither life nor art. They are taxidermy.”