The newsstands that dot the city's sidewalks would be able to stock cellphone chargers, offer more batteries and, perhaps most importantly, upgrade their umbrellas under a proposal broached Monday to double a price cap on their wares.
Newsstand operators and supporters say the City Council proposal to lift the more than decade-old limit from $5 to $10 would help the venerable businesses keep up with the times.
"With $5, what can you get?" asks Jay Patel, 63, who has run a newsstand a few blocks from Penn Station since 1981. His brother, Mike, has manned a stand near City Hall for about 30 years.
The two, originally from Ahmedabad, India, say the price cap keeps them from offering sunglasses, disposable cameras, some tourist maps and souvenirs and some other things customers seek, but they could provide those items for less than $10.
Newsstand numbers have dropped in recent decades. There were nearly 1,600 of the sidewalk kiosks in the 1950s, compared with about 300 now, according to the NYC Newsstand Operators Association.
Proprietors say the stands have become less profitable because of factors ranging from the city's high cigarette taxes to the rise of online versions of the print newspapers and magazines they sell.
Many have tried to supplement their business by adding such offerings as lottery machines and refrigerators to sell cold drinks. But some say they've had to drop other items, including packs of brand-name batteries and large packs of candy, as retail prices rose past the cap.
The pre-tax, retail, per-item price cap was raised from $2 to $5 in 2002, and the City Council's leader and some colleagues say it's time to boost it again.
"The $4 umbrella in 2002 isn't the same as the $4 umbrella of 2012 or 2013," Council Speaker Christine Quinn said Monday at a news conference outside a lower Manhattan newsstand. "The $4 umbrella in 2013? You're lucky if it's going to get you to the corner, keeping you dry."
Backers note that the stands are nothing if not small businesses — they generally measure about 50 to 60 square feet — and often serve as entry-level work opportunities for immigrants. Proprietors generally license the stands from the city and a private vendor.
The price limit is meant partly to ensure that the sidewalk stands don't evolve into mini-marts or convenience stores, Quinn said; they also are barred from selling clothes, jewelry, handbags and some other items. The New York State Association of Convenience Stores had no immediate comment on the price cap proposal, which is due for a formal introduction in the council later this month.
Publications and prepaid phone and transit cards would continue to be exempt from the price limit.