While on my way to my freelance job in the Grand Central area last Friday, I noticed vendors setting up for a street fair on 43rd Street between Third Avenue and Lexington Avenue, so I decided to forego my usual Five Guys Friday lunch and treat myself to something at the fair.
I was disappointed, although not surprised, to find that this street fair had the exact same food offerings and merchandise offerings as virtually every other street fair I’ve attended in the past decade or so, and I really can’t figure out why.
Anyone who has attended any of these events in the New York area can rattle off the list with little prompting. When it comes to food, visitors are pretty much limited to Italian sausages, cheesesteak, crepes, fried plantains, some sort of Asian offering, corn on the cob, zeppolis and fried Oreos. Not that this list sucks, but there are so many other types of food that would work well at street fairs, yet it seems that no one ever tries to bring anything new to the table, so to speak.
The same goes for merchandise. The only stuff available, for the most part, is New York T-shirts, snarky T-shirts, hats, cell-phone accessories, handbags, cheap sunglasses and that one dude who sells reggae CDs at seemingly every single event in the tristate area. Again, there are so many more products that could be sold, and I don’t get why they aren’t.
So I did a little research into the process of becoming a vendor at street fairs. Naturally, there are costs involved, because nothing is free.
The first thing potential vendors must do is secure a permit, which costs $10 per month and requires the litany of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo forms one would expect from the New York City government.
About.com recently published a guide to becoming a vendor at street fairs, which contained information about the three main organizers. Two of them require $45 annual fees, and the two organizers that provided About.com with per-event information charged $195-$650 and $275-$475, respectively, for food vendors, and $55-$650 and $125-$185, respectively, for nonfood vendors. Sure, it’s an investment, and a significant one, at that, but it doesn’t strike me as prohibitive.
The fees clearly eliminate the Norman Rockwell image of kids selling lemonade, or the Charles Schulz image of Lucy charging five cents for psychiatric help, but they don’t strike me as overly prohibitive.
So why the lack of variety? Is there behind-the-scenes politicking and corruption? Are available permits and spaces scooped up by the wily veterans? Are the organizers keeping tight control over who secures spaces at their events?
It would be nice to see some new faces and products at some of these street fairs, instead of the same old crap.