The owner of a local newsstand is facing nearly $100k in fines and the permanent closure of his 23-year-old small business.
Sadik Topia racked up over $58,000 in fines for what West Side Spirit termed “minor infractions.” However, that number just about doubled to total $92,000 for “earlier summonses for infractions like displaying wares on makeshift shelves that were not part of the structure of the newsstand, a city approved design, and for selling a phone charger for $30 when newsstand’s are limited by city ordinance from charging more than $10 a piece for their goods.”
Topia, a Bronx resident and UWS small-business fixture for nearly a quarter of a century on 79th and Broadway, had his license suspended when he couldn’t pay the hefty fines for what seem like negligible violations.
His once-thriving business took a hit over time due to several factors including the abundance of electronic news sources and the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of his business thus shifted to the sale of other items including e-cigarettes and related paraphernalia, according to West Side Spirit, all of which he was licensed to sell.
However, Topia’s license expired in 2021 and he was reportedly informed by the city to renew it after the pandemic. He never did and became subject to a $100 per day fine after a city inspector from the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) – formerly the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) – found the newsstand selling vaporizers, Juul pods and smoke pens on September 19, 2022. The $100 a day fine for the 584 days since the related license expired works out to $58,400.
Topia later appeared before an administrative hearing officer and testified that he should only be on the hook for $1,300 because he started selling the electronic smoking products just 13 days before the city inspector made his observations, and did not sell of those products since. However, the officer was not persuaded and levied the full $58,400 “from the date of license expiration through the date of the hearing.” That is in addition to the initial $34,000.
Marilyn Kaufman is the license holder of the newsstand and subcontracts to Topia. She appealed the fine in November but it was upheld, with Topia effectively presumed guilty because “there was no way to verify that Respondent was only selling e-cigarettes for 13 days in that period of time.”
The newsstand’s shutdown struck a nerve with many Upper West Siders including council member Gale Brewer, who contacted First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright and asked City Hall to lower the fine considerably, West Side Spirit reports. Mayor Adams was subsequently quoted as saying he would do anything within his powers to help Topia get back to work.
A rally was held on Thursday with Brewer in attendance. She noted that her efforts to persuade City Hall to reduce or rescind the fines have been unsuccessful to date. However, a GoFundMe has been set up to help Topia pay the fines and reopen his business.