Study says street fairs are too dull, too frequent

The city’s street fairs are in dire need of a makeover, according to a survey released Thursday by the Center for an Urban Future. In fact the report showed that the majority of them have become less of a source of enjoyment for New Yorkers and more one of headaches—mainly because of uninteresting vendors and a lack of community flavor. The report also offers several proposals for how to make the events less generic and more vibrant.

The report—which features 24 interviews with an array of people from Brooklyn Flea co-founder Eric Demby to BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins—argues that large numbers of New Yorkers are dissatisfied with street fairs. They said the events block traffic, feature many of the same vendors at each fair, and just too numerous—there were 321 of them in 2009. The fairs were also faulted for failure to feature food or merchandise from local restaurants and merchants.

“We’ve got a city full of amazing entrepreneurs and artisans, so there’s no reason we should have the same handful of vendors at all of these events,” said Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future.

Participants in the study also pointed out that street fairs could do well to add more entertainment booths that reflect the neighborhoods they’re in.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that just three companies—Clearview Festival Productions, Mardi Gras Festival Productions and Mort & Ray Productions—control more than 200 of the city’s fairs.

“The organizers should really be given incentives to reach out to a broader mix of vendors,” Mr. Bowles added.

On the flip side, Nancy Ploeger, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce points out that, although she sympathizes with people being fatigued by the overwhelming number of street fairs, she’s noticed a number of people are still enjoying them. “People are coming out and buying the merchandise,” she said. “The vendors wouldn’t keep coming back if they weren’t.”

According to Ms. Ploeger, local merchants and restaurants have always been welcome to participate in the street fairs, but simply rarely choose to do so. “None of the stores in the communities lack the opportunity to be part of the street fair. We give free booths to nonprofits, churches, and community centers for our fairs.”

She added that each street fair has to pay 25% of its earned revenue to the city to support city services, and that much of the money earned at these events go to nonprofit organizations.

The Center’s full report, “New Visions for New York Street Fairs,” can be read online.

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