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Oscar Mayer, Monet, and Money

Outside N.Y.'s Met, $288,000 is the price of doing business=

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ANDY WARHOL never painted a hot dog, but he might have been inspired by the stand outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What makes the green and white minitrailer so notable is that this January the owner started paying the city $288,000 just to be able to sell museum-goers street dogs, pretzels, sodas, and ice cream.

As almost any New Yorker can tell you, that's a lot of buns. At $1.25 a piece, it would take 230,400 hot dogs or pretzels just to make the rent this year.

So why would M&T Pretzel fork over so much money to the city? The answer is sidewalk capitalism.

"It's our flagship location," says George Marcos, M&T Pretzel vice president.

As Mr. Marcos discovered, it's a dog-eat-dog business out there. To keep his flagship, he got into a bidding war. It was a situation that city officials relished.

"My reaction was 'hot dog,' " says Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who confirms that the bid was a record. "We did not know we could get that much sauce out of a hot dog," he adds.

The "sauce," in fact, contributed to the $29 million the department collected last year, up from $2.5 million in 1978. With the city in trouble over its budget, the additional funds helped to offset some of the cuts.

Even New Yorkers, who aren't fazed by much, are astounded that anyone would pay that much money for a hot-dog stand.

Buying a pretzel, Bryan Miller, a freelance photographer, asks, "Do they hope to make a profit?"

The hot-dog seller that day, Irmas Babayev, an immigrant from Tajikistan, only shrugs. The economics of the business, he says, is driven by the weather. A hot dog kind of day is sunny with lots of New Yorkers out for a stroll. Some high-traffic stands may sell $1,500 a day in food and drink.

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