Sunday, September 2, 2018

NYPD Again Confiscates Controversial Sidewalk Bookseller's Inventory

Originally published August 3, 2018 in West Side Rag

By Joy Bergmann

For years, sidewalk bookseller Kirk Davidson has been a lightning rod and Rorschach test for Upper West Siders. Some see his open-air marketplace at 73rd and Broadway as a funky haven for bibliophiles, while others see a filthy nuisance blocking pedestrian traffic.

But on Thursday, folks didn't see much of anything at all. No Kirk. No books.

That's because NYPD confiscated five tables full of books – hundreds of volumes – left unattended over the past week, according to Capt. Timothy Malin of the 20th Precinct. Officers conducted similar sweeps back in July and August of 2016. 

Malin says that since he took charge of the precinct in April, "Not one week has passed during which Kirk's name has not come up at least once. He is the single individual that we receive the most complaints about."

In New York City, it is legal for vendors like Davidson to proffer their wares. But each vendor is limited to one table of goods no larger than 8 feet long, 3 feet wide and 5 feet high; and those goods may not be left unattended on the public sidewalk.

Malin says he received an uptick in complaints when Davidson expanded his enterprise to five tables. And the problem can be more than clutter. "I don't think it's the books that are offending's the unsanitary conditions," he says, noting that books left outdoors can become covered in mold, mildew and host vermin. "When we took similar action against another vendor, there was actually a rats' nest in his books. Also, when vendors camp there overnight, they leave garbage and human waste behind."

West Side Rag was unable to locate Davidson for comment, but we did reach his long-time attorney, John Levy, who had not yet been apprised of the latest police action. "Kirk's been there for decades," says Levy. "He knows what to do when he loses his books. He goes to the precinct to claim the vouchered property. Gets transportation to pick them up. It's his business."

The NYPD treads carefully when dealing with Davidson. According to an NYT profile, Davidson claimed to have received more than 200 summonses [and beat most of those charges] and had won more than $80,000 from the City in a series of civil suits for unlawful enforcement and seizure of his books. "Before we do anything with respect to a bookseller, we contact a Department attorney," Malin says. "We're not here to chase booksellers. We're here to address community concerns."

Olivia, our tipster who provided photos of the Wednesday night confiscation effort, says she wishes the NYPD would put their energies elsewhere. "With everything going on in the world today and the absurd corruption we're seeing at such high levels, it seems ridiculous to crack down on a street bookseller," she said. "He's not bothering anyone."

Council Member Helen Rosenthal has long supported efforts to clear the sidewalks of scofflaws. In a statement to West Side Rag she said, "The key issue here is that everyone be able to share our sidewalks safely and enjoyably, whether they are pedestrians or vendors. The vast majority of sidewalk vendors follow the rules and they are an asset for the community. But in the case of Mr. Davidson, he violated the terms of his sidewalk vendor license multiple times over a long period."

Given Davidson's 25-plus years as an area fixture, it likely won't be long before his tabletop bookstore returns. But on Thursday afternoon, his long-time corner looked like a blank page.

[PS:  Within three days, Davidson and his tables were back.]

This story was later picked up by the New York Post