Struggling Bowery Newsstand Gets Reprieve from Eviction

By Julie Shapiro on February 28, 2012 5:51pm 

Marilyn Louie is trying to save her newsstand at 18 Bowery.
Marilyn Louie is trying to save her newsstand at 18 Bowery.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

CHINATOWN — A newsstand owner who is battling the city to keep her longtime spot on the Bowery won a one-month reprieve on Tuesday.

Marilyn Louie, a Chinatown grandmother whose father opened a newsstand on the Bowery at Pell Street 35 years ago, has been fighting for months against city inspectors who say the stand is 3 inches too close to a neighboring building.

The Department of Consumer Affairs initially told Louie she had until Feb. 29 to find a new location for her stand, but agency officials told her Tuesday that they had pushed the deadline back to March 31, Louie said. 

"I don't really know if they're going to let me stay here," said Louie, who hopes the delay will lead to the city dropping its case against her.

Louie's plight has galvanized many neighborhood supporters, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, to take action.

"It is wrong to force … Marilyn Louie to potentially lose her business and her livelihood over 3 inches," Silver wrote Monday in a letter to Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, whose agencies have the final say about the matter.

Louie, a single mother of four grown children, has also collected more than 700 signatures in support of her newsstand, which she said is more than just a place for locals to pick up papers and lottery tickets.

"I'm an info booth," Louie said recently, between customers. "People ask me how to get the bus, how to get to the World Trade Center. I translate letters [for Chinese residents who do not read English] and I explain their bills. This is my second home. People know where to find me."

Louie's father, a World War II veteran, opened the newsstand in 1977 and she took over after he died in 1982. Since then, Louie has worked there seven days a week, for 10 or more hours each day.

The stand was declared to be legal when it opened, Louie said, but city inspectors recently approached Louie and told her that new regulations implemented in the 1990s mean it's 3 inches too close to the building line.

The city says this newsstand on the Bowery is 3 inches too close to the neighboring building's stoop.
The city says this newsstand on the Bowery is 3 inches too close to the neighboring building's stoop.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

There is just 9 feet and 3 inches of sidewalk space between Louie's stand and the nearest building, 18 Bowery, which is less than the 9 feet 6 inches the city requires, Louie said.

The city wants Louie to move her stand across the street or to another block, but she worries that her customers wouldn't know where to find her and she would face additional competition.

"I don't think it's fair," Louie said. "I just want to support myself."

Louie has asked the city to grandfather in her existing stand and allow her to keep her spot, a request echoed by Silver and Community Board 3's Transportation Committee. Louie will make her case Tuesday night to CB3's full board, which has an advisory role.

"The City continues to work with Marilyn Louie to find a solution that is consistent with siting criteria," a Consumer Affairs spokeswoman said.

A DOT spokesman said the agency had no plans at the 18 Bowery location.

This newsstand has been on the Bowery for 35 years.
This newsstand has been on the Bowery for 35 years.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

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