MHNA Testifies at Public Hearing for Changes to Street Fair Rules
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Updated 12/13/16. Mayor De Blasio withdrew the proposed changes to street fair rules.
October 2016. The New York City Street Activity Permit Office has proposed changes to street fair rules. The significant changes would be a reduction in the number of street fairs in some neighborhoods, a requirement that 50% of the vendors must be neighborhood businesses, higher fees and a deadline one month in advance of the street fair date for submitting the list of vendors to the City for approval. A public hearing was held on October 13, and the comment period was extended to October 24. The Murray Hill Neighborhood Association, which has been producing an annual street fair for over 40 years, testified at the public hearing. The testimony was prepared by Thomas Horan, Chair of the Street Fair Committee. Read the full testimony.
A very large and lively crowd showed up at the hearing. Non-profit groups that sponsor street fairs, professional street fair organizers and street fair vendors, in addition to those who represented other neighborhood interests testified at the hearing. Several Chambers of Commerce, Community Boards and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also testified. Many were there as observers with printed signs in support of street fairs.
Street fair sponsors (like the MHNA) who raise money from the fairs, unanimously said that the new rules would hurt them, they might put the fairs out of business and might even doom the non-profit organizations that are doing good works for the neighborhoods. Some groups said that they would lose a significant source of funding. There was general agreement that the requirement of 50% neighborhood businesses was not achievable.
Professional street fair organizers such as Mardi Gras and Clearview Festival Productions commented on how the fairs provide jobs for immigrants, women, people of color and populations with low skills that would have difficulty making a living otherwise. They want the fairs in midtown Manhattan where the tourists are.
New York City artisans (jewelry makers and crafts people) testified that they can't afford brick and mortar shops and they make a living from street fairs. Many are on etsy.com, but the street fairs give them an opportunity to talk to people and get feedback on their work. They live in NYC and consider the whole city “their neighborhood”. They also need the fairs to be where the tourists are.
Vendors, many of whom live in NYC and make a living from street fairs, want more street fairs in the most profitable neighborhoods (midtown Manhattan).
The Times Square/Theater business improvement district wants fewer fairs. They say that there are disproportionally too many fairs in their neighborhood and that traffic impact makes it very difficult for people to get to the theater for performances and to neighborhood businesses. They said that each neighborhood should be viewed individually, and there is no "one size fits all” solution.
One pastor asked for no fairs on streets with houses of worship on their worship days. His parishioners have difficulty getting to church and being dropped off by Access-a-Ride, etc.
Some community organizations said that their fairs set a “gold standard” for street fairs. They combine street fairs for several organizations and incentivize neighborhood businesses, non-profits and artisans by offering low cost or even free tables. But they still cannot achieve the goal of 50% neighborhood businesses.
Suggestions were to have flat fees OR have 20% of the take go to the City and to phase in the 50% requirement over several years, assessing the results each year. Many people commented that the vendors would not commit 1 month in advance because they look at the weather reports a week before each fair. Also there would be a lot of uncertainty—the fair might be cancelled if they don't achieve the 50% target, after many of the expenses have already been paid and the fees collected. What vendors would commit to a fair under those conditions? Some Community Boards asked the City to consult more with them and to provide more transparency on who will get the permits and why.