Kids working undercover bought box cutters in stationery and hardware stores across the city in open violation of a law barring sales of the dangerous blades to youngsters, officials said yesterday.
The Department of Consumer Affairs sent the kids into 73 stores in a four-day sting last week to buy the box cutters — tragically, weapons of choice in the city’s schools.
“The results are troubling,” said Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jose Maldonado.
Forty-three of the stores sold the cutters without checking their customers’ identification — and 14 of them were openly displaying the blades, also in violation of the law.
The guilty stores include giant chain stores like K-Mart and F.W. Woolworth as well as small neighborhood stores, officials said.
Willie Meistelman, a manager at Barneys Hardware Store on Sixth Ave. in Manhattan, complained that the Consumer Affairs operation was a setup because his underage customers were all accompanied by adults.
“It’s the adults who bought the box cutters,” he said.
Local Law 80, enacted two years ago, makes it a misdemeanor for merchants to sell box cutters to minors or display them openly and for students to carry them on city school grounds.
But the law has proved difficult to enforce. Police could only move in if they received a complaint about a violation at a specific location, and Consumer Affairs, which licenses and inspects many of the stores, had no power to cite them for violations.
That began to change last year after the Daily News found box cutters in open display at Rite Aid stores. Embarrassed, the chain pulled the blades from its shelves across the city.
Mayor Giuliani then ordered a crackdown — and Staples, the national office supplies chain, was one of the stores found to be selling the cutters alongside school supplies.
Consumer Affairs was also given the power to inspect specifically for violations of the box cutter law, with the ability to fine stores up to $500 for each violation and even revoke a store’s license, Maldonado said.
As a result of last year’s crackdown, Staples and Rite Aid stores were on the list of 30 “good stores” that Consumer Affairs released yesterday.