a face-off on broadway over books news

| 26 Apr 2016 | 11:24

A long-time Broadway book vendor is facing opposition from an Upper West Side that is going increasingly upscale.

The sidewalk vendor, Kirk Davidson, has been selling books on Broadway between 72nd and 73rd streets for 31 years. But recently, with the arrival of national retailers like Bloomingdale’s in the neighborhood, Davidson has drawn the opposition of Realtors and nearby business owners, who complain that he, and a clutch of other vendors on the same block, no longer belong in the neighborhood.

“The vendors are disturbing business and residents by clogging the sidewalks ... leaving rubbish and worse in their wake and turning the sidewalks into de facto warehouses for those long portions of the day when their wares are unattended in breach of the law”, said Jesse Krasnow, president of Sirius Realty and a resident of the neighborhood.

Davidson started selling books here in 1986. After working for an airline, serving in the military and working at another job that failed, he began living in a shelter. Shortly after, he met a man who said he would show him how to make some money. In the first two days selling books, he said he made $55 in 30 minutes, which then turned into $100 in 20 minutes. It was then that he realized he could make a living off of being a street salesman.

But doing so has meant a steady stream of fines and summonses for violations of vending rules. He guesses that he’s received between 185 and 200 summons in the past 31 years, but insists that he has treated people in the area with respect and has been nothing short of polite.

“As long as I am here, I’m going to go to court,” he said in an interview near one of his tables. “I understand how it works. As long as I am black on this side of town, I’m going to go to court.”

Davidson is convinced there is a clear racial dimension to the complaints he’s received recently, given that he’s an African-American man on a predominantly white side of town. “Some love it, some can not stand it”, he said.

But others in the neighborhood dispute that. They say the issue is the clutter created by Davidson and his colleagues, as well as turf battles and other fights tied to the sellers.

Gregg Wolpert, president of The Stahl Organization and a resident of the Upper West Side, said the booksellers are an easy distraction from people wanting to invest in the neighborhood. He says that the books have been on the streets in all types of weather for years, but are part of a bigger problem in the community. “Some lower volume of booksellers might be more tolerable if the city could rid the area of homeless people who hoard their possessions,” he said.

According to the city’s Vendor Rules and Regulations, the book vendors are indeed in violation, such as leaning merchandise against buildings, taking up more than 8 feet by 3 feet of sidewalk space, leaving stands unattended overnight, having more than one table, and setting up within 20 feet of a legal entrance or exit.

Davidson counters that there is nothing wrong with selling books, which he says have a spiritual healing ability.

Being a street salesman is what he takes pride in and he says he has no plans to stop. “If I persist, I will succeed because nothing beats persistence. I will overcome all resistance”, said Davidson.