Markets For Everything: Candy Store Kiosks in NYC Hold Cell Phones While Students Are At Schools

April 4th, 2014

There truly are markets for everything. New York City bans cell phones in schools. So students leave them at kiosks near the school–for a fee!

New York City prohibits students from carrying cellphones in public schools, but many are reluctant to leave their phones behind. As a result, the rule has created a modest side business for shops near some schools that allow students to store their phones for a fee.

But along one commercial stretch in Queens that is close to a cluster of schools, storing cellphones has become almost a matter of economic survival. Not only do the merchants reap a small but welcome source of income, but they have also come to rely on the ancillary sales of food and drinks they make to the students dropping off their phones in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon.

And even better, the stores compete on price!

So out of necessity, he joined a half-dozen or so nearby stores and began providing shelf space to local students in Briarwood, a working-class, immigrant neighborhood in Queens where one is hard-pressed to find a teenager without a smartphone.

“Nobody wants to leave their phone at home, so we leave them here,” Chitra Deodat, 17, a senior at Hillcrest, said as she picked up her phone from Hill Top Grocery Store on Parsons Boulevard, which is a stone’s throw from Mr. Ahmed’s shop.

The competition among the neighborhood merchants has become so fierce that the daily storage rate has dropped to 50 cents a day, from $1.

Mr. Ahmed, following other stores’ leads, made a pile of claim tickets by cutting empty cigarette cartons into small squares and then numbering them. He now takes in about 30 phones a day, he said, which has resulted in a rush of afternoon customers buying snacks and sodas, accompanied by groups of friends who also buy items.

And, they compensate customers for fraud! That’ sgood customer service.

Most local store owners say they also advise students that they are not responsible for stolen phones.

“I tell them, ‘If something happens, I’m not going to pay you back, to replace your $500 phone,’” Mr. Fernandez, of the florist shop, said. “Getting robbed is a chance you take.”

There have been instances, students and merchants said, of claim tickets falling into the wrong hands and phones being picked up by strangers. That is one reason students lauded the owner of Student’s Variety for taking down their names, asking for identification and refusing to release phones to anyone claiming to have a friendship with the actual owner.

“He knows your name, and whose phone is whose,” said Marco Alejos, 18, a senior at Hillcrest, who prefers to store his phone there. “He literally won’t give you a phone if you don’t have your ticket.”

A dishonest customer did enter Mr. Ahmed’s business recently, claiming a $700 phone that belonged to someone else.

“Someone must have found the ticket and claimed it,” Mr. Ahmed said. “When the real owner showed up, he went crazy. He wanted his phone. I gave him $200.”

And those kiosks (tiny in case you’ve never seen one) are expensive!

Mr. Ahmed said he started storing cellphones against his will. Like many of the merchants who store phones, he said he would prefer to avoid the headache of organizing storage, dealing with rambunctious teenagers and assuming the risk of losing phones or having them stolen.

“I never wanted to take the phones, but business got so bad last year that I had to start,” said Mr. Ahmed, a Yemeni immigrant, who found himself facing dwindling newspaper sales and a rising rent. (He currently pays $3,000 a month for his tiny space.)

I’m sure the City will shut down this entrepreneurial business very soon.