Sitting on a corner in the heart of Central Square, Weiner's Pipe and Book Shop has been selling newspapers, magazines, lottery tickets and an array of other items for over 25 years.
But according to owner Alan S. Weiner, his store is being threatened by a small six by 10 foot news shack on the curb in front of the store. Weiner says his business will suffer serious losses if the tiny shed is permitted to reopen and merchandise the same items as Weiner's.
"It's not that it [the stand] will force us out of business or anything," Weiner said looking over his tortoise-shelled bifocals and salt and pepper beard. "It's that he'll be able to undercut us because he has no overhead or rent--we will suffer some losses."
The small aqua-colored newsstand is boarded up and vacant now, but its owner, Joseph R. Indelicato Jr. is determined to reopen it. Indelicato is currently petitioning the city to allow him to expand his line of products to include not only newspapers and magazines but also lottery tickets, racing forms and other items.
But Wiener says that if the petition is granted, and the shed is allowed to reopen with more merchandise, his ability to compete will be seriously impaired.
Until Indelicato petitioned to expand his license, the city has only collected annual licensing fees of $5 and has not charged for renting the sidewalk.
Weiner said he will persist in his crusade against the stand and "follow it through to the end," to make sure his business is not undercut by a deluxe, and perhaps illegal news shack. "Now he wants to sell everything," said Weiner, standing behind a lottery ticket machine and underneath a hanging row of portable headphone radios. "It's unfair competition."
The newsstand has a long history in Central Square, culminating in a recent dispute--Weiner and Cambridge politicos contend that location of the shack on public land may be illegal.
The shed was first built in 1973, after the City Council approved its construction to shelter aging newspaper dealer Louis Weinberg from the cold. Since then, the shack has been sold six times. And without paying any rent, the stand has sold newspapers, and then magazines, and now, it may be permitted to sell a full line of smokeshop type merchandise, if Indelicato has his way.
Weiner brought his complaints to City Hall last Monday where he requested the City Council to investigate whether the stand should pay rent to the city or be removed altogether.
"The question here is did the owner have the right to sell the shack--he sold a shack on city property," Weiner said.
The neighboring news stand and Weiner's shop had a friendly relationship until the shed was sold to Indelicato. Weiner said there were "no problems" with the shack, even when the stand overstepped its permit and began to sell magazines. But now that the shack, equipped with heating, electricity and its own phone line, is seeking to expand its business and Weiner says he has had enough. "What I would like to see is the removal of the stand," Weiner said.
Despite a presentation by Indelicato, who stated that expanding his business would create jobs for young Cantabrigains, councillors questioned the legality of the shack's location on city property and asked City Manager Robert W. Healy to investigate the matter.
"This is a virtual free use of public land," said Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 at last week's City Council meeting. "This raises a real public policy issue here."
But for Weiner, the stand's presence is more than a matter of public policy. Weiner told councillors last week that the shack is in "sharp contrast" to its surroundings and is in an unsafe location, far out on the curb and practically in the path of traffic.
"It's an infringement on our business too great for me to ignore," Weiner told the council. "The permit, if granted, will be too devastating for my business to withstand."