In 2005, the city, with strong support from then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, signed a contract with Cemusa, a Madrid-based design company, to construct the identical steel, aluminum, and frosted glass newsstands that now dot the NYC streetscape (Cemusa also built 3,300 bus shelters and 20 pay toilets). The old models, which Dan Biederman, president of The Bryant Park Organization and Biederman Redevelopment Ventures Corporation, refers to as “tawdry” and “put together with plywood,” were torn down. They were often ramshackle and idiosyncratic, varying based on the neighborhood and their owners’ sense of style. “The new design is definitely an upgrade,” Dan Biederman believes. Even so, they’re nondescript, uniform, and fairly soulless.
Aesthetics is only one part of the equation. Newsstand operators used to pay the city a licensing fee, but owned their newsstands outright -- prices varied considerably based on location and condition. After the highly contested Cemusa takeover, the company took over full ownership of the stands. Operators now pay a one-time $30,000 fee to Cemusa plus a two-year city license fee of $1,076 -- they are renters, not owners. The revenue from the ads displayed on newsstands, once a significant source of income for the individual owner, now goes entirely to Cemusa.
To make matters worse, the decline in newspaper sales in the early 2000s was a huge blow to the bottom line. “The margins for newspapers are dismal,” Biederman says, but customers who came for a paper would often pick up candy, cigarettes, and soda.