|Students picking up their cellphones after showing claim tickets to a clerk |
at a candy store in Queens
Discrimination? Disparate treatment? That's what it looks like to me.
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.
“It helps me keep my business going,” said Ali Ahmed, 59, the longtime owner of a candy store near the intersection of Hillside Avenue and Parsons Boulevard, where waves of teenagers flow through every school day, headed to and from one of several nearby schools, including Hillcrest and Jamaica High Schools.
The phone storage business has transformed the storefront economy around the bustling intersection, producing such a strong business incentive that local owners say they must take part in order to avoid losing foot traffic.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.)
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.
“If they don’t come here, they’ll go over there,” Mr. Ahmed said, pointing toward Sunshine Grocery, a small store across Parsons Boulevard that also stores phones.
At Sunshine, Mohammed Mia, who works behind the counter, said he stored several dozen phones a day.
“We don’t make money on the phones,” he said. “We offer it as a service. But, of course, when the students come in, they buy stuff.”
As he spoke, groups of teenagers crowded the counter, holding out bright green numbered tickets to claim phones that had been tucked into individual plastic bags, each with a numbered tag inside.
Even a local florist, Hillside Floral Design, now stores phones, in the hope that the teenagers will keep the shop in mind when buying party balloons or floral bouquets, the manager, Carlos Fernandez, said.
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With several stores to choose from, local students said they try to pick the most secure location. Nearly every teenager can rattle off details of the storied tale of a bunch of cellphones belonging to students that were taken during an armed robbery at Hill Top Grocery.
“That was two years ago, before I got here,” the afternoon counter man at Hill Top said on Tuesday, adding that no robberies had occurred since. He declined to give his name.
It certainly has not hurt Hill Top’s clientele. On some afternoons, the line to pick up phones stretches down the block, with police officers on hand to maintain order.
Ms. Deodat, and her friend Kevon Ajodhia, 17, said they felt fairly secure leaving their iPhones at Hill Top.Continue reading the main story
WilliamUWS 1 hour ago
Bravo to these entrepreneurs for filling a niche!Hopefully a chain won't co-opt the idea. Additional security measures could be offered for...
BNYgal 1 hour ago
I thought the rule had changed and students were allowed to bring phones as long as they kept them off and didn't use them during the school...
roluby 1 hour ago
Briarwood is not a working class and immigrant neighborhood. As I remember it, it is a community of middle income, educated home owners and...
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“You’re taking a chance, wherever you leave it,” Ms. Deodat said. “But we can’t leave them at home because we both have jobs after school, and we need them.”
Of the two dozen or so teenagers interviewed in the area, nearly every one of them dismissed the notion of leaving their smartphone at home. The reasons for needing their phones with them included reaching parents, socializing and arranging rides home after athletic practices or work.
At Student’s Variety and Grocery, on Parsons Boulevard, the owner has posted a handwritten sign warning students: “You lose your ticket, you lose your phone.”
The owner, who declined to give his name, called the stashing of phones crucial to business, saying: “If we don’t take their phones, they don’t come here. They go somewhere else to buy things.”
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.”
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