Zeal Gets the Better
Of Broadway Bookseller
It’s always sad to see another independent bookstore go out of business, though not, perhaps, the one the cops shut down at 73rd Street and Broadway on July 3. If you’re unfamiliar with the bookstore at that location, that’s because the establishment in question was of the sidewalk variety. It was so ambitious and extensive, however, that it was starting to rival Borders or Barnes & Noble, according to the police.
“He had the whole block taken up-literally the whole street,” explained Capt. James Murtagh, the 20th Precinct’s commanding officer, referring to the prime stretch of real estate from which the bookseller ran his business, stretching from 72nd to 73rd streets on the west side of Broadway. “You couldn’t get past. He was blocking the entrance to the bank.”
Responding to what Captain Murtagh referred to as “community complaints”-not only that the bookseller was blocking the street, but also that he became “nasty” when passers-by suggested that his entrepreneurial zeal might have gotten out of hand and was starting to present a pedestrian-traffic hazard-officers from the 20th Precinct arrived at the scene at 8:30 p.m.
“The legal book vendor is allowed one table, three feet by eight feet,” Captain Murtagh continued. “This guy had tables up to 10 feet long. We went over there, measured them, and for the ones that were oversized-which was all of them-we issued summonses.” The vendor’s display, which the police confiscated, included 25 folding card tables, 93 milk crates and 153 bags of books.
“He knew the rules,” the precinct’s commanding officer went on. “Sometimes he’d have friends standing behind the tables to make it look better”-meaning to make it look less like a one-man show and more like a consortium of booksellers. “On the night we were there, he basically told us the other tables were unattended.
“He was extremely upset,” the captain added. “His contention was, we’re picking on him. He wanted to give up the rest of the book vendors in the precinct.”
The captain gave the bookseller’s address as a car and van that he parked on 73rd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. To the guy’s credit, while he apparently accumulated parking tickets, he did pay them. “He’s not a scofflaw,” said the captain, who followed up on the violations.
The vendor did, on one occasion, return to hawk his best-sellers from a single regulation-sized card table. But apparently the thrill was gone. Captain Murtagh reported that he hasn’t made another appearance since then, and his car and van have disappeared. Nor has the vendor claimed his confiscated belongings, which are still awaiting him at the city property clerk’s office. “He’d get them back, provided he answered his summonses,” the captain said.
Being a florist probably doesn’t make the list of the 10 (or even the 100) most dangerous professions-unless, of course, you’re a florist in Manhattan. The folks at Jerome Florists, 1379 Madison Avenue, can most likely attest to this distinction.
On June 24, the shop received a repeat visitor-but it wasn’t one of the Park Avenue matrons who patronize the establishment. Instead, the caller was a male who’d stolen flowers from a display in front of the shop “numerous times,” according to an employee who decided that he wasn’t going to take it anymore.
However, when the shopkeeper confronted the suspect-who apparently felt that free flowers were his birthright-the perp became enraged, the florist said, threatening and cursing him. And he didn’t stop there: He also picked up a chalkboard and tried to hit the merchant with it. The florist successfully managed to subdue the thief (who was later charged with robbery), but not before he was struck on the left side of his face and received numerous lacerations. He received medical attention at the scene.
In these heady, imperialistic times, it should come as no surprise that the thieves who frequent Madison Avenue aren’t just after Prada bags and Gucci loafers, but also the Stars and Stripes-not clothes and accessories that incorporate the motif, but the flag itself. At least that’s what the unknown crooks who visited the Helmsley Carlton Hotel at 680 Madison Avenue on July 1 were after.
The perps employed a metal barrier as a ladder, according to the police, which they used to filch what was described in subtly poetic terms as “a fully displayed flying large American flag.”
One would have thought the thieves might have attracted some attention as they fled with Old Glory-but then again, the incident occurred at 1:30 a.m., when Madison Avenue is rather desolate. The thieves managed to escape in an unknown direction; the flag they took was valued at $60.
Ralph Gardner Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.