Jayant Patel has worked at the newsstand outside SEPTA's 8th Street Station since 2010. (Jordan Levy/Billy Penn)

Philadelphia’s newsstands will soon be able to sell more wares, thanks to a bill sponsored by Councilmember Mark Squilla at the behest of their business association. 

The most visible new addition is probably sports apparel, but items like flowers, lip glosses, and a variety of beauty products will expand offerings available at the curbside commerce hubs. Some operators are already considering what, among the new options, might bring more customers around. 

“Flowers? I don’t think so,” mused Jayant Patel, who said he’s operated a Center City newsstand for nearly 14 years. But, he said, “after COVID, we [lost] a lot of business,” so he’s welcoming the change. 

The wares newsstands can carry are tightly regulated — as is most commercial activity on streets — but change frequently. Once signed into law, the change just passed by City Council would be the fifth amendment since 2013. 

That flexibility is needed to align with buying habits, per John Rocco, CEO of the Newsstand Association of Philadelphia. “We’re an impulse buying kind of business,” he said. 

The NAP represents close to 100 newsstand owner-operators, whose focus tends to be on what “we feel people might want while they’re going to work, or maybe leaving work,” said Rocco. 

There are fewer than 100 newsstands left in Philadelphia, but they have a strong business association that’s always looking for new opportunities. (Jordan Levy/Billy Penn)

The number of newsstands in Philly has been on a steady decline, as more and more operators have looked to sell their stands in recent years.

For Patel, who’s worked a newsstand outside of the entrance of the Market-Frankford Line’s 8th Street Station since January 2010, the new items are a welcome addition, though he doubts they’ll outstrip his top seller: state lottery tickets and scratch offs. 

The latest amendment was spurred by the success of Philly sports teams, which has buoyed Philly’s bootleggers, who have been out in force selling unofficial apparel that reference team and fanbase in-jokes and other charms.  

“We saw last year, with the Eagles, all the folks out on the corner selling these [apparel] products,” Rocco said. “Why couldn’t we sell that kind of product at our newsstand, and help our newsstand owners and operators make a couple extra dollars?”

With that example in mind, the NAP met with Squilla roughly a year ago, the councilmember said. The conversation focused on one question: “What other possibilities can we look at, to keep these vending locations viable?” 

The bill, which Council has already approved, expands the list of what newsstand operators can sell to include:

  • Flowers
  • Health products (such as deodorant and minor pain medicine)
  • Beauty aids (like makeup products)
  • Philly sports apparel

As councilmember for District 1, Squilla represents the home turf of many of the city’s newsstand operators, and sees the sector as a unique opportunity, as well as a regional staple. 

“I think we, as a city, should look to keep it going as long as possible and share different opportunities with folks that are not only currently [involved], but maybe in the future, are looking to see if this is a possibility for them to sustain their family,” Squilla told Billy Penn.

A newsstand in Center City sells mostly candy and lottery tickets. (Jordan Levy/Billy Penn)

Newsstands do still carry the products that gave them their name — print news publications. The Philadelphia Daily News is still sold at plenty of newsstands, though in smaller quantities than ever. 

“We usually sell out in the morning,” said Rocco, of the NAP. “You know, it’s not like it used to be years ago where newsstands would have quite a few newspapers during the course of the day.”

The NAP is currently investing in new digital screens to enhance the news scrolls that are featured on plenty of newsstands, as display ads sold through the NAP are among the more profitable measures an operator can pursue. 

“We’re still trying to give folks news as much as we can,” Rocco said, “as we go on this new journey.”

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...