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US: Newsstands, halal cart owners say business suffering

25/2/11 www.columbiaspectator.com

At Morningside Heights’ newsstands and food carts, owners say a bad economy and weather have cut into business.

By Gina Lee

Published February 25, 2011

 

1 of 2 photos.  Jasper L. Clyatt / Senior staff photographer

Walking down Broadway between 110th and 111th streets in the early morning hours, passersby see a familiar sight—Kabir Charania working the morning shift at his family’s newsstand.

The stand is open 24 hours a day because profits from late-night business—though slow—outweigh the stand’s heat and electricity costs.

“He knows that at night, college students come out,” Charania said of his father. “We do it because there’s an opportunity to make sales. It’s worth it.”

For Morningside Heights’ newsstands and halal food carts, those profits have become harder to come by this year.

“Business is slow, not like before,” said Akter Hossain, who owns a newsstand on the east side of Broadway between 115th and 116th streets.

Business has plummeted almost 30 percent compared to last year, Hossain said, partly due to rising cigarette prices and the increasing popularity of online newspapers and magazines.

Others blamed a harsh economy whose effects have only been exacerbated by a cold, snowy winter.

James Barakti, who owns the halal cart on the northwest corner of 116th Street and Broadway, has had to cut back. He used to have two additional employees running the cart at all times, but now he himself works with one other employee to maximize income.

“If I hire somebody else, it’s kind of slow,” Barakti said, noting that students have been less likely to stand in line for food in the cold.

City regulations allow food cart owners to operate multiple food carts, like Barakti does, while newsstand owners can operate two stands. Still, business is hard, which is why Hooda’s Halal Food cart on Amsterdam Avenue opens at 6 a.m.

But employee Mohamed Elkassas said that the workday for Hooda’s employees starts well before then because they have to drive the cart over from a storage garage in Queens to its location just outside the Columbia gates before setting up.

Hossain said newsstand and halal cart owners do not have any other option if they want to make money. His newsstand makes about a 25 percent profit on the goods it sells, which is less than 40 cents per $1.50 pack of gum and $1.25 per $5 magazine.

“I cannot do any other business,” Hossain said, adding that he needs to “get some money for my suffering family” that lives overseas.

Barakti, too, works his cart out of necessity. He studied for two and a half years to become a doctor, but had to leave school to make money for his family. He said he dreams of returning to his studies, but what he makes now is only enough to pay off his bills.

“I’m going to stick with it until I can sell it,” he said of his cart.

Hossain said he makes barely enough to get by and provide for his family, but raising prices isn’t an option.

“We cannot increase prices because if I increase prices, people cannot buy,” he said.

Though Morningside Heights is home to numerous newsstands, Hossain said he doesn’t resent their presence because he knows all of their owners are just trying to make a living like he is.

“They are doing their thing, I do my thing,” he said. “I’m still trying. Making better times come in the future. It will come.”

gina.lee@columbiaspectator.com

 

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