CORRECTION APPENDED Streets in Morningside Heights could become emptier if Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides to pull the plug on more of the city's street fairs. Though Bloomberg mentioned in a February radio address, discussing the city's budget situation and possible cuts, that the city might look into street fairs, among other possible city projects, no official plans have been made regarding the state of street fairs. At this time, there are no proposed cuts to street fairs specifically. Street fairs, which take place from April to October, block off city streets for food and other vendors. This year, nine are scheduled between 96th and 110th streets. Bloomberg spokesperson Evelyn Erskine said that since 2004, the city has reduced the number of fairs by 17 percent due to attrition and a more efficient permitting process. The mayor has said that most fairs appear to be the same and share the same vendors. His concerns echo a 2006 report from the Center for an Urban Future, which said, "Though the ?ve boroughs are ?lled with an incredible diversity of businesses and artists, the overwhelming majority of street fairs seem to have the same few items for sale, such as tube socks, knockoff purses, and gyros." According to Peter Arndtsen, district manager of the Columbus/Amsterdam Business Improvement District, this claim is legitimate. "It doesn't help existing merchants and it doesn't do anything to show off the neighborhoods," Arndtsen said. He noted that opinions about street fairs vary. "There are a lot of people who think street fairs are clogging up the streets, and there are people who enjoy them," he said. Still, street fair vendors don't typically maintain close relationships with local businesses, and they only occasionally collaborate with nearby restaurants. But Arndtsen said he could see a beneficial side to street fairs, which support community nonprofit organizations. One organization that benefits from street fairs is Symphony Space, a performing arts center on Broadway near 96th Street that has a fair scheduled for October. Their 2007 fair raised over $9,500. According to Ed Budz, director of theater operations for Symphony Space, any cuts to the fairs would hurt his organization, but would be even more damaging to groups with more limited funding. "There are many little groups in the community, such as Westside Crime Prevention, whose fairs represent a big chunk of the income they're getting from any source for a whole year," Budz said. He also noted that while street fairs may require added security costs, they can have economic benefits. "I believe the mayor should also look at other factors such as all the business it brings—street fairs are a big tourist attraction in New York," he said. Meanwhile, Community Board 7 has been following the mayor's lead. Over the past five to six years, it has reduced its multi-block street fairs by 50 percent, from 26 to 13, according to district manager Penny Ryan. "The [fair] groups here on the West Side have consolidated into three groups doing one fair together instead of each group having its own big fairs," Ryan said. According to Ryan, CB7 is unsure of what exact steps the city might make with regard to street fairs. "I don't know what the concerns are behind the reductions, if it's more police work or not if the city is talking about single-block fairs or multi-block fairs both," she said. At the moment, however, Ryan says that CB7 is not planning any further cuts unless the city imposes new requirements. "Our hopes would be that the city would recognize that we've done this consolidation already and have fewer street fairs than we've ever had before," she said. Budz argued that street fairs should be protected because they offer opportunities for nonprofits to interact with the local community. "Entertainment is a reflection of the things we do," he said. "We are a vibrant part of the community." Correction: An earlier version of this headline and article incorrectly reported Mayor Bloomberg's message on street fairs in February. Street fairs were mentioned in the context of a conversation on the budget and possible cuts, but he did not mention any hopes to reduce the number of fairs, but rather that it is being looked into. Due to questions on the veracity of a quote from the Mayor's office, a statement on the budget initiative has also been removed from this article. Spectator regrets the errors.
Columbia Spectator Staff