Gary Waxman knows which newspapers his customers pick up every morning, what kind of gum they chew and whether they missed their daily Metro-North commute from White Plains.
Waxman, like his father before him, has run Waxman's News, a 30-foot-wide newsstand at the White Plains train station, for 32 years, selling everything from newspapers to cigarettes, Red Bull to candy bars.
"My dad used to say you can't pay the bills with good morning," said Waxman, 49, who lives with his girlfriend just a few blocks from the Metro-North station.
His father's words seem to ring more true today than ever before. Waxman found out just a few weeks ago from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that if he wants to continue running his business, he'll have to put in a bid in March for the newsstand where he has toiled since 1980, first working beside his father and then on his own after his father became ill in 1986.
"This business is everything to me," Waxman said Tuesday. "It's all I've known. It's all I know how to do."
The decision by the MTA to ask for a request for proposal is strictly a business decision, said officials at the cash-pinched agency, which Newsday has learned is looking to increase rental income by attracting more upscale businesses to its stations.
"The MTA is RFPing several stations in an effort to improve the quality and variety of amenities for our customers and to increase rental income to the MTA," said spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.
Metro-North officials did not immediately provide a list of other stations that would be similarly impacted.
Waxman has been renting his space for $2,300 monthly and has been working on a month-to-month basis since his annual lease expired in January 2009, Anders said.
The decision Waxman is facing leaves him at a crossroads, wondering whether he should put in a bid and see how it turns out or move on with his life.
"There's got to be somebody out there who could use a good businessman like me," he said wistfully.
Waxman said he has found it harder and harder to make a living as the Internet eats away at what once was a reliable source of income -- the newspaper.
During the 1980s and into the 1990s, he said he sold as many as 700 copies of The New York Times every day. Today, he said he sells just 55 as commuters scroll through their iPhones or iPads during the trip to Grand Central Terminal.
"Business is not what it used to be," he said. "Digital is the wave of the future or it's already here. You've got to stop and see the writing on the wall."
Although business has declined, the relationships have only flourished. Over the years, customers have gotten to know Waxman, with his bald head and ever-present smile, as someone more than the guy who hands them change every morning.
"Gary is good people," said Vivian Singleton of Tuckahoe, a regular customer, who got teary-eyed when told that Waxman might be leaving. "If he leaves, it's going to be a sad day."
Singleton said she has seen Waxman give hard-luck people money or food when they wander into the station on Ferris Avenue.
And each morning as she heads up to get her train, Singleton is greeted by a familiar voice. "Here comes Viv," Waxman will say. If she's been away for a few days, Waxman will ask: "Viv, where you been? I miss you."
"He's more than just a newsstand guy," said Mary Romano, a customer from Mount Vernon. "He's everybody's friend. I don't think this could go on without him."
Waxman has been posing a similar question for himself in recent weeks. He wonders whether he can go on without his newsstand and the people who energize him every day.
"I didn't grow up as a smart kid," Waxman said. "I learned my hard work right in here. The classroom is great, but this is where you learn your life behind this counter, working 17 hours a day. This is where you learn life's lessons."
With Xavier Mascarenas