NYPD Again Confiscates Controversial Sidewalk Bookseller’s Inventory

NYPD confiscate unattended books on Wednesday evening. Photo by Olivia.

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 people…it’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.

Update, Monday 10 a.m.: As of this weekend, the book stands were back, several tipsters reported.

NEWS | 70 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      I finally understand what our local precincts are policing. And it’s not the increasing violence and dangers reported to them.

    2. NotImpressed says:

      Good riddance to bad rubbish.

    3. robert says:

      This guy is not just an “innocent book vendor”
      He has long history of being a problem issue. He has chased other vendors on the block with a box cutter when the got to close to his space. He has brought homeless men to the area to watch his tables claiming that they were theirs nots his. He also claims to only sell books,he sells a large amount of other items that people give him. He plays his large boom box at high levels and while he is there makes very lewd comments to women and has been known to follow them down the block while making these comments. Must recently the dress rack is back, from what he has pulled from the trash.
      The real topper is the strong smell of urine and human waste at the corners each day.
      Don’t believe me go do some long term surveillance of the situation.

      I do not understand why the stores don’t push the issue, as it must cut into their biz. Though past stores that have had issues with him that got him arrested, charged and convicted coincidentally had their windows/storefront damaged late at night

      • frank dewey says:

        In all the years I have walked past Kirk’s bookstand(s) I have never seen him harassing anyone. When he listens to music he usually wears headphones.

        I suspect the odious odors come from the men (and women) living rough who have camped there for years.

        Just for your information, the bookseller outside Zabar’s (white) has been selling books there for years using multiple tables for his wares.

        • Juan says:

          Please don’t turn this into a racial issue…

          The bookseller outside Zabar’s also packs up his belongings every night and removes them, as the law requires. Big difference. And as far as I know, there have never been any complaints about his behavior.

    4. Kevin says:

      I think it is good that the police cracked down on inconveniences like this. The space that the city gives vendors is fair, and they should not have a free pass to take up a significantly large amount of space than allowed!
      Addressing quality of life concerns in the neighborhood are exactly what I expect the police to do.
      Just because they crack down on things like this doesn’t mean they’re not focusing on systemic issues like corruption. What does Olivia expect regular police officers to do on a day to day basis?

      • dannyboy says:

        Clearly not dangerous crime or anything threatening THEIR safety and security.

        I have lived here a long time and know their hiding places.

    5. Jason says:

      Bravo. I know all the “aren’t there bigger fish to fry” comments are coming. But this is quality of life which is important too. That area is a filthy mess. It needs to be cleaned up of the books and vagrants who sell them.

      • dannyboy says:

        This is not a bigger fish to fry comment, so relax. But you do know that by supporting this as the big Police Action that you are providing the Police with cover so that they don’t have to police real crime in our neighborhood.

    6. Sherman says:

      It’s about time this guy was removed. His stands were a blight.

      I always wondered who bought these books. His whole setup was filthy.

    7. Leon says:

      If he is not able to operate within well-defined rules, he should not be permitted to operate there. If he can operate within the rules, as other booksellers seem to be able to do, then he can continue. Very simple.

      I agree that this is not necessarily the best use of police resources, but if this is a problem for people, it is their job to respond.

    8. stu says:

      From the many neighbors I have spoken with about this, most are in agreement that they do not mind street vendors, and generally appreciate having them — whether its the various book vendors, fruit/veggie vendors, the Apple products guy in from of the Apple store, hat/gloves folks, X-mas trees people, etc.

      The issue, is his leaving his tables wrapped up in filthy plastic overnight, guarded, at times, by rude street folk who have harassed people walking by. All other vendors — ALL — pack up their wares at the end of the day and rest their tables the next day. He needs to do the same.

    9. Bill says:

      This is unacceptable. Davidson should be locked up and the taxpayers should be reimbursed for all the resources spent policing this criminal.

    10. Peter says:

      Hope this is the last time we need to spend time, resources, money on this.

      The sidewalks are meant to be walked on and the roads to be driven on. Period. And with some luck both are kept clean and in good shape. God knows we pay enough in taxes to enable that.

      Businesses are paying an arm and a leg to rents stores right where this guy and others set up shop. That is blatantly unfair at best to the business owners.

      In this particular case, it was also a dirty, unsafe, invasive, loud,…issue.

      • dannyboy says:

        “Hope this is the last time we need to spend time, resources, money on this.”

        sorry that that annoying Bill of Rights is costing something to continue. You want to put that Due Process thang to an end, eh.

        “The sidewalks are meant to be walked on and the roads to be driven on. Period. And with some luck both are kept clean and in good shape. God knows we pay enough in taxes to enable that.”

        yeah, I see your point. If we need to arrest you for anything besides walking or driving, say eating ice cream or scootering, that’s what you’re proposing.

        Because we sure don’t want no books ’round here.

        • NotImpressed says:

          As usual, dannyboy, you misrepresent what a poster actually wrote.
          Again, your reading comprehension skills are substandard and your need to express righteous outrage outweighs your capacity for thought.

          • dannyboy says:

            NotImpressed, have you read this WSR story?

            Have you read ANY WSR story, because you never comment on the story. You just comment on reading and spelling.

      • josh fogel says:

        “The sidewalks are meant to be walked on and the roads to be driven on. Period.”

        Since when?

        Street vendors are as old as this city. And well appreciated — from hot dog carts to fruit and veggie salesmen to Christmas tree booths. They just need to be regulated, as they are. This jerk flouts the law, relying on free speech exceptions. He needs to be shut down.

    11. Harriet F. says:

      If Davidson were simply a “bookseller” I would entirely support him. But, he’s not a bookseller, I’ve lived 2 blocks from him for 25 years, and he has always put out a threatening presence into our neighborhood. When my kids were young, they were terrified of him. He is an occasionally violent street person, who cloaks his “living” in that spot where he drinks, pees, and curses at people, in the idea, but not reality, of being a bookseller. In fact he is more like a bookseller’s pimp, as he runs the street with an iron hand. Getting rid of him is an important part of cleaning up the streets and reducing petty crime. He’s actually part of the increasing violence on our streets. Let legit booksellers stay there, but get HIM off our street.

    12. BillyNYC says:

      Nice to see a nice clean sidewalk now…
      Now let’s clear up those bikes attach the street signs for months at a time most of them broken and disrepair. There always in the way and they’re parked on small sidewalks here on the UWS especially in the way of the wheelchairs and the baby carriages they’re always in the way. We don’t have enough space on the sidewalks to park bicycles attached to street signs. There should be a designated Large wide avenue where people can park their bikes and lock them up, like bike racks similar to “city bikes” not a side street where they’re always in the way.

      • yourneighbor says:

        (1) I’m glad this guy is off the street again. Hopefully for good as it appears that he is incapable of cleaning up his act and following the law that other street vendors seem to be able to do.

        (2) It is unfortunate that the Citibike contract didn’t mandate them building a certain percentage of public bike racks whenever they put up one of their commercial racks. With all the delivery bikes chained up everywhere it is hard to find a safe spot to park a personal bike.

    13. Rob G. says:

      I love street vendors but when they start chasing people around with box cutters? Take ‘em away, officers. Buh-byyyyyyyeeeee!

    14. Rikitikitok says:

      He is moving back in currently, loudly yelling “what!” To any passerby who stops to stare. Comical moment for me as I had just finished reading this article.

    15. Eric says:

      BRAVO! We live on West End and pass his mess every day. Glad to see him – and his mess – gone. Our public sidewalk is not his private space to pile up multiple tables of his items (there are more than just used books), and leave them overnight and 24/7 with filthy plastic coverings as if Broadway was his private storage – or garbage – bin. He – and others whom he attracts that looks homeless – also sit and sleep all day on chairs/recliners/beach chairs (that look like they were pulled out of the garbage) spread out right next to the Chase Bank entrance while eating, drinking and listening to really loud music/radio. For those who are fans of that and defend him and his behavior, please feel free to have him take all of that and camp out in front of where you live.

    16. Can't walk there says:

      Books, sure. Many tables of them, loud boom box, sidewalk as toilet, trash strewn all over, nope–go rent a store. It’s really that simple.

    17. Ken says:

      Funny, when I look at what typically fills our streets I see “a filthy nuisance blocking pedestrian traffic.” This bookseller isn’t mowing people down or polluting the air or contributing to the planet’s demise, unlike what we’ve ceded our streets to, with pedestrians and vendors left to fight over the slivers of space remaining. In the name of literature and the continuance of the human race, more space for books, less for cars!

      • Columbus Avenue Resident says:

        He is actually polluting the air. He smokes a smelly cigar all day and is unwashed. Perhaps if you lived on the block where he sells his wares you might feel differently. Many years ago I did not mind having him right where I lived, but in recent years he has expanded the space for his books and has fouled the air. Shakespeare & Company is opening down the block and I’d rather support this local business than an often abusive street vendor.

        • dannyboy says:

          You know that you can support Shakespeare & Company AND AT THE SAME TIME allow others to purchase used books.

    18. 4-Sooth! says:

      Amen to all of the above who dared defy current Political Correctness / Faux Populism and side with (Gasp!!) THE POLICE against someone who blatantly flouts the law.

      As for the “tipster” who asserts this guy is “not bothering anyone”…have you conducted a survey or are you just stating your personal opinion?

      Here’s another personal opinion: the west side of Broadway between W.72nd and W.74th is DISGUSTING, almost like some TV drama’s depiction of a street in a third-world country, what with:
      1. vendor scofflaws blasting their boom-boxes,
      2. homeless rattling their beggars’ cups,
      3. assorted weirdo’s mumbling to themselves,
      4. AND making it even worse, self-possessed entitled “normal” types aggressively pushing through the crowd.

      ATTN über-libruls: this certainly has raised thy hackles, so bring on your self-righteous rebukes!

    19. lynn says:

      “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.”

      Where did the $80,000 go? It appears that getting busted is part of his business!

      • JR says:

        This is the whole point of this “business.” He makes very little $ from the books. He makes his $ by suing the City. $80K so far!

    20. Sean says:

      3 days later and he’s back with four tables and sitting outside Chase on a chair.

    21. Gretchen says:

      Sorry, but Kirk is BAAAAAAAACK. Saw him unloaded a U-Haul box truck on Broadway with endless bags of junk. Sorry UWS, he’s recalcitrant. I know the 20th Pct. tries its best, but the laws seem to protect these pop-up slums. I’m not sure only books are being sold…

    22. Davie says:

      I really think that we should show empathy and compassion for this person. He’s African-American. He’s a veteran. He’s a small business owner. We are mostly all wealthy UWS liberals who live in rent stabilized apartments. We live in a liberal bubble. We’ve been privileged all of our lives. We never have had to work hard for our money. Have any of you ever been homeless? Have any of you ever been addicted to drugs? Have you ever lost your job suddenly and had no money for food or medicine? Have you ever been hungry? Think about what it would be like if you had to walk a day in this man’s shoes!

      • NotImpressed says:

        Davie – have you offered him a place on your sofa?

      • Juan says:

        A few questions (not sure why I am bothering to respond):

        – what does his race have to do with this
        – I do not live in a rent stabilized apartment. I worked my tail off my whole life to buy an apartment in what I thought was a safe, clean neighborhood. I pay taxes to support among other things the public schools that my children attend. And to support the services that are meant to help the poor and/or mentally ill.

      • Gretchen says:

        Nope, Kirk is NOT a veteran, which was revealed to be a lie long ago. He’s just Sanford & Sons, i.e., a sidewalk junkyard, surrounded by a host of shady characters, who often threaten people using the Chase ATM machines at night – particularly the elderly, one of whom was once attacked.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        “We are mostly all wealthy UWS liberals who live in rent stabilized apartments. We live in a liberal bubble. We’ve been privileged all of our lives. We never have had to work hard for our money.” These statements are so ridiculous I find it difficult to believe they were stated sincerely. However, on the chance that they were, your groveling and shame at your “privilege” is nauseating. I FOR ONE pay thousands of dollars a month for a 1 bedroom in Manhattan Valley, I’ve been working since I was 14, and I am not a liberal. This bookseller is a crafty businessman who has learned to exploit the lack of law and order in this city. He and his cronies who lounge by the entrance to Chase bank are DISGUSTING.

    23. 92nd Street says:

      This “Vendor” believes he does not have to follow the law. He is better than the rest of us and may treat the sidewalk and his own personal shop. We the Citizens and our Police should shut our traps and allow this King to do as he pleases.

      • dannyboy says:

        “We the Citizens and our Police should shut our traps and allow this King to do as he pleases.”

        meaning: “We [as Kings] and OUR Police should do as we please.”

        to hell with due process and the rule of law?

    24. Steven says:

      The people of the Upper West Side owe this guy nothing. Business owners spend insane amounts of money making their store fronts and sidewalks neat, clean, safe and most of all enticing. Why should those same businesses and in fact all of us have to put up with this guy who has no respect for our beautiful UWS community. The sidewalk is looking better already.

      • dannyboy says:

        “The people of the Upper West Side owe this guy nothing. Business owners spend insane amounts of money”

        MONEY!

        not people?

        • Sherman says:

          Hi dannyboy

          You should open a business on the UWS and invite all the homeless people to camp out in front of your business.

          Lets see if you live by your creed “Money! Not people”.

          You’re very generous with everyone’s money but your own.

          Sherm

          • dannyboy says:

            Sherm,

            You must have borrowed this from your idol, Trump. Just last week he deflected the problem of the Separate Children on to the ACLU, saying that if they cared about these defenseless children, that they should take responsibility for finding their deported parents. Are you good with all that, Sherm?

            • Sherman says:

              Hi dannyboy

              Instead of responding to my post you go with a wildly off-topic rant about Trump.

              For the record I can’t stand Trump.

              But since you’re so concerned about these separated children perhaps you should let some live in your apartment with you.

              No doubt you have plenty of unused space.

              Sherm

    25. Mark says:

      I’ve lived on this particular block for about 25 years. I’ve bought dozens of books from Kirk (and sold a few to him, as well); I’ve enjoyed browsing the books scores and scores of times. I’ve never once considered him a nuisance or his books an eyesore on my block.
      I realize nothing lasts forever, but I can’t help feeling nostalgic for the once proud and prominent literary atmosphere of the Upper West Side, which is in retreat, and of which the book vendors up and down Broadway were an important part. I always felt they were reminiscent of the booksellers along the Seine in Paris.
      Sadly, along with it’s literary reputation another thing disappearing from the Upper West Side is the general “live and let live” attitude that once permeated the neighborhood, and which encouraged quirkiness, eccentricity, and an artistic sensibility. It is rapidly becoming conventional, suburban, straight-laced and bland. None of which is necessarily bad, of course, to each his own, I suppose. Nothing lasts forever. But I miss it.

      • dannyboy says:

        Mark, I very much enjoyed your Comment. It captures the UWS before the attack of hyper-gentrification.

        You may want to reflect on this, however: “It is rapidly becoming conventional, suburban, straight-laced and bland. None of which is necessarily bad, of course, to each his own, I suppose.”

        This rapid change IS having a detrimental effect on the neighborhood, because Community and Values are shattered. Most affected are those priced out of apartments and stores. What does everyone think happens to them, that they just disappear?

        It surprises me that people don’t just accept that the problems of homelessness and violence begin here. I guess people can deny anything.

      • NotImpressed says:

        Are you high?

    26. Mick says:

      The whole area is a mess. It’s a disgrace. If I was to do a shit on the street would I be arrested or not?

      • dannyboy says:

        I guess you needed to resort to a wildly false equivalence to try to make a point that is otherwise unsustainable.

    27. JC says:

      As of Sunday morning, I counted 3 tables of books were back.

    28. Tom Lee says:

      No wonder Trump won, and will win again. 44 people shot in Chicago over the weekend. People taking over the sidewalks.

      Please don’t compare this guy this to a hotdog vendor like some have on here is nothing short of stupid. If you can’t see the difference then you can’t see at all.

      People complain about empty store fronts – ha! You have high rents and street vendors with 6-8 picnic tables setting up shop for free in front of your store camping out in sofas and blasting music all day long. And you wonder why people do not come into your store.

      Can’t wait until someone opens a car wash using one of the hydrants. I am all for it. Let chaos reign!

      • dannyboy says:

        “No wonder Trump won, and will win again. 44 people shot in Chicago over the weekend. People taking over the sidewalks… Let chaos reign!”

        You do know this is happening while Trump is President.

        • Tom Lee says:

          The damage after years and years of neglect does not get fixed in months. And that is why it will be 8 years of Trump – lots of fixing needed. No more complaining about high rents and greedy landlords but then letting guys like this squat on the sidewalk.

          Under Deblasio all we see is an increase in dog poop, homeless and illegal vendors. More and building scaffolding, crowded and incompetent schools, decaying subway, abandoned parks…love it!

          • dannyboy says:

            “The damage after years and years of neglect does not get fixed in months.”

            Tom, I do hope that you are enjoying the Trump Improvements. Mucho Bigly ones on their way!

            • Tom Lee says:

              I think a lot of people are enjoying it – reason why he is president and likely will be for another six years. Just not enjoying stepping on more dog poop and cleaning-up after illegal street vendors like this guy. Have him pay a license and abide by the rules. Otherwise lock his ass up.

              It’s important to leave the echo chamber every once in a while. There is something called reality, which is important to be aware of. It may be uncomfortable, perhaps outright painful, but why live life otherwise.

              NYC is falling apart – as is much of the country yet taxes can not go up any higher, be it income or real estate or other. Last time I looked education, healthcare, housing, food, were all getting worse and more expensive.

              If we don’t need a change now then not sure when – when it’s too late?

            • dannyboy says:

              “I think a lot of people are enjoying it – reason why he is president and likely will be for another six years.”

              But, but, but his approval ratings as so low.

              I am sure that Trump and you are planning on his being President for Life. That is certainly evident.

    29. Raindog says:

      Well – he was back there on Sunday

    30. Glen says:

      Not to worry, as of 7am on Monday 8/6 he’s back in full glory.

    31. iwannaknow says:

      Has anyone out there ever made a purchase from him? I have never seen anyone remotely interested in his wares. Can anyone set up a table with the appropriate permits and then “utilize” the space to inhabit all day never making a sale? Is he remitting sales tax and filing income tax returns? The entire setup is fishy…

    32. Trannyboy says:

      Olivia is wrong. He do bother people walking by. He bother me and my boyfriend in times past. People like the books they do no like how he act–that is the problem.

    33. getmeoutofthisfilthycity says:

      “But on Thursday afternoon, his long-time corner looked like a blank page.” Nice.

    34. Leon says:

      Two thoughts on this:

      1. He seems to repeatedly find loopholes in the low that allow him to return to his spot and actually get paid for his troubles, despite the fact that he is clearly violating the spirit of the law. Perhaps one of our lawmakers could tighten up the law a bit so that he can no longer return. Kind of like how rather than everyone in our neighborhood is constantly reactively fighting now developments, they should be working more to change the zoning laws to proactively prevent them.

      2. Perhaps next time his items are carted away, someone else should set up shop in his spot. He has no more right to it than anyone else. Or better yet, sounds like a perfect location for a Citibike stand!

      • dannyboy says:

        Leon, you are proposing the replacement of books with bikes.

        Now I get why we have this Administration.

    35. Janet W. says:

      I once stopped at Kirk’s book tables years ago and after going through the books I found one I wanted. I am a book lover and searching through used books for me is a treat. I showed him the book I wanted and asked him how much. He looked me up and down, looked at my face, my gray hair, my shoulder bag, my sneakers. I didn’t then nor do I now wear anything expensive because I don’t own such items. I was looking for a book I could afford since I live on Social Security. He named an outrageously high price and I asked him if he was serious. He sneered as if showing how powerful he was to deny a book to someone he obviously didn’t like. I couldn’t understand why. I was polite and respectful to him and had bought from his tables before.

      I dropped the book on the table, walked away and have never, since that time, stopped to look for books at his tables. He is a vicious and despicable man, and I hopes he leaves the UWS permanently.

    36. L-M says:

      Grateful to the police for dealing with this issue. This 5 sometimes more tables are a blight to the area and a heath hazard. Leaving the mess wrap in blue plastic looks like a homeless encampment. Have seen rats coming from under the table. He does not abide by the ordinance that limits the number of tables and leaves the mess 24 hours a day rather than collecting his books at the end of the day. The vendor is very aggressive and threatening.

      Quality of life issues are critical to keep the areas safe.

    37. Peter says:

      I am opening a car wash by the fire hydrant on the corner of 72nd and WEA. $10 a car. Cash only. For now only space for three cars.

      You have to hand it to this guy. He pays nothing for his business. He has a better location than the businesses behind him who are paying an arm and a leg to rent the stores. He does NOT pay taxes. He has collected close to $80,000 from the city. Wow.

      Anyone find the irony in someone not paying taxes yet demanding the use of the sidewalk for their personal enrichment?