Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Think Tank Affirms That NYC Street Fairs Suck

7th ave fair

The Center for an Urban Future, a Manhattan-based think tank, has further spelled out what most of us already know: Street fairs suck because they're generic affairs dominated by a small group of vendors and produced by a few firms. So, it's not just Gowanus Lounge that despises the vast majority of them. In this, we feel vindicated. All this time we had assumed we were cranky and picky.

The report calls the fairs "bland and generic" events that "do not reflect what’s unique about New York City." It finds that fairs are "dominated by a handful of the same vendors selling items like tube socks, knockoff purses and gyros, and that a surprisingly high percentage of vendors are based outside the city." The report says the city should make changes in street fairs that would include more city-based entrepreneurs and artists.

According to city data analyzed by the Center, nine of the 20 vendors with the most food permits were based outside of the five boroughs. Similarly, a quarter of all vendors who have a permit to sell merchandise (other than food) at street fairs come from outside the city. The report found the biggest reason why New York’s street fairs are so generic is that the same vendors dominate most of them. Specifically: 20 vendors hold 46 percent of all the permits to sell food at street fairs. Seven vendors each have more than 200 food permits.

And then there's this: three large production companies will organize more than 200 of the 367 fairs held in the five boroughs this year. And the system is structured so that "local businesses have no clue how to participate in street fairs." Even those that do "are often stymied by bureaucratic hurdles when applying for a city permit." Virtually nothing can be done online, and "in person" permits can eat up an entire work day.

None of this breaks new ground, of course. It simply adds a level of detail that fleshes out the deadening sameness known as the New York City street fair.

If ever there were a case for a radical systemic lobotomy, this is it.

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