When you’re in trouble, it’s good to have The West Side on your side.
That is what Sadik Topia has found since the city shut the newsstand he has been operating for 23 years at 79th and Broadway. West Siders didn’t just get angry, they figured out who has juice. It turns out one of Sadik’s regular customers, Dara L. Sheinfeld, also heads up pro bono litigation at one of the city’s most influential law firms, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.
When she realized Sadik was in trouble, she stepped in to see if she could organize pro bono legal help.
So now Sadik, an immigrant from Gujarat, is represented by a team of lawyers that would be the envy of a Fortune 500 company, who are Davis Polk’s regular clientele.
“Davis Polk has taken on representation of Sadik, pro bono, and has a large team working with him,” said Sheinfeld, who lives on the Upper West Side.
“It’s a pretty interdisciplinary team of corporate and tax and litigation lawyers,” Sheinfeld explained, noting that the team included several Hindi speakers. “We really are just committed to learning what’s going on and trying to find a path forward to get him back in business.”
Sheinfeld said the Davis Polk team was partnering with a nonprofit organization, Volunteers of Legal Service, that has a practice specialized in assisting what they call microenterprises, very small businesses like news dealers.
“There are so many people like Sadik,” said the head of the VOLS’ microenterprise practice, Andrea Tan, “New York City has a large population of immigrants and for a lot of immigrant families the way to financial stability is to start their own businesses.”
It can be challenging, Tan said, for immigrants to navigate the thicket of rules and regulations imposed on their businesses, which is where her free legal representation can help.
“They have to jump a lot of barriers to be successful,” Tan said “You can have a little newsstand. But then you better be perfect and know everything in English. And have the money to hire a lawyer to make sure that you’re complying with all the rules all the time.”
Sadik Topia has become an example, of course, of the challenge. But also, of the power of a small business operator to improve his own life, the life of his family and the life of the neighborhood.
Sheinfeld says she has known Topia since she first moved to the neighborhood almost 20 years ago.
“I’ve known Sadik all these years,” she said. “My kids have been going to his newsstand to buy water bottles every time they have a field trip and have to take a disposable lunch. Everyone in the neighborhood knows him and he always greets everyone with his big smile.”
“Recently, my oldest child was taking the subway to a soccer practice,” Sheinfeld recalled, “and her subway card wasn’t working. All of a sudden, she noticed that someone had swiped for her, and it was Sadik!”
“That’s who he is in our community. I’m not surprised that people really want to make sure he’s being helped.”
Sheinfeld said she realized almost immediately that something was wrong when Sadik’s newsstand closed down. “I saw that his newsstand was boarded up right away because I pass it to go to the subway every day. And I was very confused. Because he’s always there. To see the stand closed–It’s never closed. It doesn’t matter what’s happening–Covid, a blizzard. He’s always open.”
But she only learned the cause of the closure when her husband texted her a photo of the front page of The West Side Spirit, which ran the first articles about Topia’s plight. The articles described how the city had suspended the license to run the newsstand over unpaid fines for infractions that included selling vaping gear without a license:
Sheinfeld called Gale Brewer, the council member who has taken up Topia’s cause, who was mentioned in the article, and asked if pro bono representation could help. “She called me right back to say that Sadik was indeed in need of pro bono assistance,” Sheinfeld said, and Davis Polk was able to assist.
Sheinfeld says she appreciates that the neighborhood really wants to see Sadik back in business right away, and hopes it will help them to know that he has legal support.
Mayor Erik Adams has expressed sympathy for Topia, but the city’s office of Administrative Hearings and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection have so far refused to lower the fines, which have accumulated to tens of thousands of dollars.
A neighborhood Go Fund Me campaign has not produced anything close to what’s owed.
The case is further complicated because Topia does not hold the license to run the newsstand. He has essentially sublet from the licensee all these years but has said he accepts responsibility for the fines.
“Even for us,” Tan said, “it’s been complicated to figure out what the options are, and we are a group of lawyers.”
For his part, Topia just says he is grateful.
“Thank you, guys,” Topia said, when asked how it feels to have such a team representing him. “I feel very supported to have everyone working together on this.”