Jerry Delakas, Astor Place Icon, Is Gone
By Arthur Schwartz
Jerry Delakas, a beloved fixture for decades at the Astor Place newsstand, died last month at the age of 73.
It was in late 2013. I got a call from Marty Tessler who lives on East 10th Street. “Do you know the newsstand on Astor Place? The City is trying to shut out the guy who has worked there for 24 years. Can you help him?” Marty told me that Jerry had worked at the newsstand for 24 years but wasn’t the license holder. The license holder had died and left Jerry the license in his will. But when Jerry continued to operate, the Department of Consumer Affairs gave him a daily ticket stating that licenses couldn’t be passed in a will.
Jerry got a lawyer to appeal. It went all the way up in the courts and the City prevailed.
Meanwhile Jerry applied for his own license. The City said that they had to take other applications and that if he wanted to apply he had to pay $37,000 in fines. On December 6, 2013, the City put a padlock on Jerry’s newsstand, which was on the east side of the large Astor Place Starbucks. That’s when Marty called me.
Our strategy was to go to court, get an injunction, and hopefully push the matter into 2014 when a new Mayor, Bill de Blasio, would take office. I called de Blasio (who was then Public Advocate) to put him on notice and then got a restraining order from a judge.
Community supporters showed up daily, sometimes 100 people, to support Jerry. De Blasio got sworn in on January 1 and the trick, then, was to get the new Mayor’s attention. De Blasio announced that he was inviting the public to the Gracie Mansion residence on Sunday, January 5, and held a public lottery. Kelly King, one of Jerry’s East Village supporters built a cardboard model of Jerry’s stand to present to the Mayor. She got two tickets, so Jerry came along, and they brought a petition which had gathered more than 1,200 signatures asking that Mr. Delakas be permitted to continue operating the newsstand. “His value to us far exceeds the sale of papers and lottery tickets,” the petition said. They also had a resolution of support from Community Board 2.
Jerry and Kelly went to Gracie Mansion and presented the mayor with the model, the petition and the CB2 resolution. He promised to promptly look into it. The next day The New York Times did a piece about the newsstand and how it dated back to a wilder era at Astor Place, when the Starbucks was the Astor Riviera Cafe. At that time, musicians played around the cube across Lafayette Street and its passing would mean the end of an era.
On Wednesday, January 9, the City’s lawyer called me and said “let’s make a deal.” Jerry had to agree to pay a $9,000 fine over the course of a year and he would be given the license to run the newsstand. On January 14, 2014, the Times did a follow-up, quoting me as saying, “It wouldn’t have settled without Bill de Blasio,” Mr. Schwartz said, adding, “I think we can say that this is the first of the callous Bloomberg actions toward the little guy in New York, toward the other New York, that have been reversed by Mayor de Blasio.”
Jerry was born on Kefalonia, the largest of the Greek Ionian Islands. Before he worked at the East Village newsstand, he manned other ones at different spots around Manhattan.
His nephew Angelo Delakas, who currently operates the kiosk, said Jerry died at home on the Upper West Side. The cause of death was lung and heart disease. Jerry was a heavy, two-pack-a-day-or-more smoker for most of his life.
“He quit smoking the last four years,” Angelo said. “It wasn’t early enough. The last year, he struggled with breathing.”
Jerry loved working in the East Village and talking with customers and they loved him in return.
“He lived to serve the community,” Angelo said. Our community will miss him.