‘My Soap Is Art!’ Says Illegal Sidewalk Vendor

Times may be tough, but they haven’t gotten so bad that high-powered business executives are selling apples on the street. They are, however, selling soap. At least that’s what Ken Silverman, a 35-year-old former computer-software entrepreneur, was trying to do out of the back of his Mercedes E320 when an enforcement officer from the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District shooed him off some prime pavement in front of Barney’s on July 15 at around 2:40 p.m.

“Every market is bad now except five-and-dime items,” Mr. Silverman explained as he loaded his merchandise back into the Mercedes under the watchful eye of the female B.I.D. officer. “So I decided to sell my soaps. I had a big software company with 200 employees. I no longer do. So I’m taking a different approach to life.”

Mr. Silverman said that business had been brisk-at least by the standards of those who sell tchotchkes off folding tables, if not by the standards of those who were once worth millions (on paper). “I sold them for 1 1/2 hours and I did really well,” he added, projecting the sort of boundless optimism and self-confidence that distinguishes merchant princes (even those trafficking in $8 bars of soap) from the rest of us. “I sold 20 soaps. Usually I sell them for $10. This was a bit of market research,” he added. “The fastest way to establish a price point is to test the population.”

In the moments while Mr. Silverman was loading his car after getting the bum’s rush, the price of his merchandise dropped to $8, a sort of going-out-of-business sale. “I’m sorry, I’m putting them away,” he apologized to customers who eyed the attractive floral bars in scents such as anise, rose and lemongrass. “But feel free to look at them.”

One wonders how anyone-especially anyone as savvy as Mr. Silverman appeared to be-could think he’d be able to get away with hawking goods in the middle of Manhattan without a vendor’s license. Heck, this isn’t Aspen-or West Dover, Vt., where the soap salesman has a country home, and where he says he harvests the wildflowers that go into his beauty bars. He says he also has rental property in South Hampton and an apartment on East 79th Street.

Apparently Mr. Silverman believes that the right to sell artwork on the street without a permit (a court victory won on First Amendment grounds by artists over the Giuliani administration) is a right that applies to him. “This is artwork,” asserted Mr. Silverman, whose soaps will soon be featured on his real-estate Web site-a far safer venue than the street. “I make this myself. My flower soaps are decorative.”

However, the B.I.D. officer wasn’t buying it, and Mr. Silverman kept packing. “This is the first day I’m doing it in New York City,” he explained, his enthusiasm for retail undiminished. “I wanted to move and try Central Park anyway.”

Membership Has Its Privileges

There are certain people-my wife, for instance-who pay lots of money every month to belong to a health club and then never go. On the other hand, there are individuals-such as the perp who visited several branches of the New York Sports Club on July 3-who really milk their memberships.

The suspect, described as a skinny male, joined the club’s branch at 23rd Street and Park Avenue around lunch time and spent the next two hours taking full advantage of the facilities-or at least the absence of other members in the locker rooms-at four of the club’s locations. His stops included the branch at 46th Street and Madison Avenue, where he was reported to have clipped a lock, though the crime report didn’t state whether he’d stolen anything.

However, he did consummate a petty larceny at the club’s division at 151 East 86th Street at 4:30 p.m. His victim, a 36-year-old Brooklyn resident, said he had the lock on his locker cut and his $400 Compaq pocket computer, a Coach watch, a cell phone and his Timberland backpack stolen.

About 25 minutes later, the facility received a communiqué warning the staff to be on the lookout for their energetic new member. But by that time, he was gone.

Teddy Bear’s Shady Provenance

While there’s no question that identity and credit-card theft should be roundly condemned, some incidents-such as the one reported to the police on July 9-are more egregious than others. A floral shop at 1661 York Avenue told the cops that in March they’d gotten a call from a woman who asked them to deliver a large teddy bear valued at $125 and 12 balloons worth $60 to a patient at Beth Israel Hospital.

While the gesture was undoubtedly well-intentioned, one wonders whether the teddy bear’s recipient would have appreciated the gift quite as much if he or she had known it was purchased with a stolen credit card.

The perp, who placed the order over the phone, gave the shop a credit card in the name of a man who lived on West 15th Street. She explained that she was his wife. More recently, the florist received a call from the credit card’s issuer explaining that the purchase-which came to a total of $202.97, including tax-was under investigation as fraud.

The store called the customer who had placed the order. The bestower of gifts assured them that she’d take care of the issue. In a manner of speaking, she did: The next time the store tried to get in touch with her, her phone had been disconnected. The florist also learned that the card’s rightful owner had never been aware of the good deed his card had sponsored.

Ralph Gardner Jr. can be reached at rgard135@aol.com. ‘My Soap Is Art!’ Says Illegal Sidewalk Vendor