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Police Confiscate Thousands of Books from Upper West Side Street Vendors

By DNAinfo Staff | July 14, 2016 11:03am
 Book seller Kirk Davidson stands in front of an empty table on Broadway next to an NYPD cruiser.
Book seller Kirk Davidson stands in front of an empty table on Broadway next to an NYPD cruiser.
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DNAinfo/Todd Stone

By Todd Stone

UPPER WEST SIDE — Police confiscated thousands of books from longtime street vendors in a move lauded by a local elected official — but compared to "book burning" by some neighbors. 

The NYPD initially "removed and safeguarded" the unattended books on July 5 and followed up again two days later with another haul, police said. 

One of the vendors said he saw trucks arrive at the scene, on the west side Broadway between 72nd and 74th streets, around 1 a.m. on July 5 and remove about 10 tables of books.

"The police illegally took our books," said the vendor, Philippe Wahlstrom, who noted he has sold books there since 1994.

He added that three tables worth of books were also confiscated on July 4, but the NYPD did not confirm any action by police on that date.  

“This is nothing new,” said Kirk Davidson, who has sold books on the same strip since 1986. “This happens about every four years, and I have 187 dismissed summons at home.”

He believes the police response could be the result of recent complaints from residents, businesses or both. About seven vendors currently set up shop on the stretch, hawking used books that are primarily donated to the sellers.

Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal praised the move, thanking the mayor and local NYPD precinct "for heeding my call to remove the booksellers on 72nd and Broadway, who have used the public sidewalk as their personal storage space for far too long," she said in statement. 

"While I support those who sell books on our sidewalks, they must abide by our city laws which require someone to watch over the books at all times."

Davidson received an NYPD summons Monday saying that he violated a city code regarding the storage of unattended property on the sidewalk, with the citation noting he had left three tables filled with more than 2,000 books unattended for at least a day. 

He is to appear at a court hearing on Aug. 3.

Davidson acknowledged that he leaves his books on the sidewalk overnight, but said that's always been the case. 

"They're trying to get rid of me," he said. 

On Monday afternoon, he and Wahlstrom stood near a set of new fold-up tables that they brought in after the originals were hauled away.

“We’ll be here every day until we get books again,” said Davidson, who requested and received a voucher from the NYPD to pick up some or all of the books that were removed. 

“It’s criminal taking people’s books away. It recalls days of book burning,” added Tom Hannon, a neighborhood resident since 1993 who has donated and purchased books from Davidson for years.

“I love these guys. They’re good guys, and they’re part of the neighborhood.”

An NYPD cruiser was parked on Broadway between 72nd and 73rd streets Monday and Tuesday, and Wahlstrom and Davidson both said the police have kept a car there since July 5.

“[The police] are wasting their resources,” Wahlstrom said. “They could be catching criminals, not violating First Amendment rights."

By Wednesday, Davidson had begun to build back up his collection, with about 300 books on his table thanks to a donation from a neighbor.

He said he normally gets to his tables — he previously owned three and had another two manned by others — at 9:30 a.m. and leaves at 8:30 p.m. However, he said he planned to stay all night Wednesday so police couldn't accuse him of leaving the books unattended. 

Davidson had the only table on Broadway between 72nd and 73rd streets Wednesday, although he pointed out that there used to be several others. 

"They don't want to do this," he said of the others who haven't come back. "But this is what I have to go through. Sad but true."