City proposes street fair changes

| 19 Oct 2016 | 04:22

Next year’s street fairs could feature fewer socks and more local businesses. But more than 100 people turned out at a public hearing last Thursday largely to oppose proposed rule changes for fairs and festivals in the city.

The proposals came from both two city offices: Citywide Event Coordination and Management, and Street Activity Permits.

Changes include capping the number of street fairs that can occur in a given community board and requiring that 50 percent of vendors have a “business or local presence within the same community board” where the fair takes place. The aim is to end a 12-year moratorium on new street fair permits without overburdening the NYPD officers who patrol the fairs.

In the first hour of the hearing, fewer than five people testified in favor of the new rules. Wally Rubin, district manager of Community Board 5, said he would welcome some relief from the approximately 60 annual street fairs in his district that “all look virtually alike with their ubiquitous tube socks and kebabs.”

Rubin attributed this to the domination of for-profit companies that organize and host many street fairs, eliminating the individuality and local character that made them popular.

“CB 5 is, as you know, an extraordinary hub for the close to 60 million tourists who visit our city every year,” Rubin said. His district, which includes Times Square, was specifically cited by the city offices as an example of the problems they want to correct. Community boards 2 and 7 were listed as well.

Many of the speakers who followed Rubin suggested that instead of applying sweeping changes to street fairs all over the city, the issues occurring in Community Board 5 be addressed separately.

A resident named Rick who lives in Times Square said he was there to speak for the vendors. “You sign up to party with the big dogs, you play with the big dogs,” he said. “This administration promised us equality, not just for the one percent but for the 99 percent. This room is filled with the 99 percent.”

That opinion was echoed by nearly every other speaker at the hearing. Vendors, community board members and individual residents criticized the proposed rule that 50 percent of vendors would have to be located in or connected to a street fair’s corresponding community board because so many vendors come from far away to vend the wares that support their families. An artist who makes Japanese paper jewelry became tearful as she described how street fairs have allowed her business to grow.

“Most of us can’t afford brick-and-mortar stores,” she said. “Because of the street fairs last year I was able to start doing this full time, and for that I’m very, very grateful. I’ve met some of the most hard-working, talented people you could ever meet at these street fairs. We’re not just tube sock and phone case vendors.”

Still more concerns arose about the proposed rule requiring vendors to sign up no later than 90 days before a street fair, which would be prohibitive because many vendors don’t want to commit until a few days beforehand so they can ensure good weather. The fee structure may also be changing from a flat fee to a percentage of the fair’s profits, which could cut into organizers’ profits and reduce their incentive to host festivals. If the Office of Citywide Events Coordination and Management decides to change the rules for hosting street fairs, they could begin to be implemented starting in 2017.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at