Vendor Protests Treatment

Says He Was Fired by Out-Of-Town for Political Statements

Dan the Bagel Man is an ex-vendor with a purpose.

Shouting "Free bagels and free speech," Dan Kontoff continued his second afternoon of protest in front of Harvard Square's Out-of-Town-News yesterday.

Kontoff, who was joined in yesterday's demonstration by a handful of supporters, said he was fired by the Transit Retailing Partnership, Inc., which owns Out-of-Town-News, for posting political messages on his pushcart in the Back Bay T station.

"My pushcart was shut down for exercising my freedom of speech," said Kontoff, who prefers simply to be called "the Bagel Man."

The small group of protestors said they hoped the demonstration would send a message to Sheldon Cohen, who runs Out of Town News, and other violators of political freedom. "I'm angry that Mr. Cohen is perpetrating a bureaucratic cruelty," said protestor Aaron T. Snopek, holding a "Justice for the Bagel Man" sign.


Cohen could not be reached yesterday, and Out-of-Town-News Supervisor Jim T. Finn declined to comment.

Kontoff, who regularly donates leftover bagels to homeless shelters and to the charity group Food Not Bombs, uses his pushcart to comment on such issues as minority rights, the crisis in Somalia and environmental protection.

"He is doing political work for the community," said Snopek.

But apparantly not everyone agrees with his methods.

This November, the Transit Retail Partnership, which handles the contractors of the vending space at Back Bay, began sending notices to Kontoff to remove the posters and sticker from his bagel cart. He was also warned that he could not use a toaster for his bagels since it might blow a fuse at the T station.

Susan M. Entin, another protestor, said the company was wrong to tell the bagel man to remove his signs.

"Small business have the right to put signs in their windows," Entin said. "Why can't Dan put what he wants on his own cart?"

After repeated notices, Kontoff was told that New Year's Day would be his last day as a bagel vendor. According to MBTA spokesperson Jim R. Ball, Kontoff's lease was terminated by the Transit Retail Partnership for violating the terms of his lease.

The letter stated that his use of a toaster oven was illegal. However, Kontoff said he believes that the underlying reason was his refusal to take down the signs.

Speaking of Cohen, the bagel man said, "Say you're a rich white man, you wouldn't want Americans to know what's really going on with the world."

Snopek agreed that the eviction must have been due to the political messages. "No one else would have been kicked out just for using a toaster," said Snopek, a protester and member of Food Not Bombs.

Kontoff said this is the second time that he has been forced to leave his job for political reasons. Three years ago, his bagel cart was shut down at Boston Commons after he set up shop in a spot not licensed to him. However, he blames the incident on the same political posters and stickers.

Kontoff said he hopes to get his vending job back and possibly to alert other to what he calls injustice. He said he will not give up his quest, and plans to continue protesting in the Square on a daily basis.

A fellow vendor said that the company was just looking for reasons to quarrel with Kontoff. "He doesn't really bother anybody," said the vendor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It is sort of sad because his posters are positive."