Street Fairs and Wholesalers in New York City
>> Street Fairs in New York City provide locations were small businesses, importers, antique dealers, craftspeople, food merchants, artists and more can display their goods without being crushed by obnoxiously high rents.
Street fairs (bazaars) are also part of the push-cart tradition. Selling on the street is common in Manhattan as it is in many parts of the world. It is rare, however, in most American cities, making our street fairs a "must see" tourist attraction. That said, New York street fairs are not to be confused with flea markets because merchandise is new and of decent-to-spectacular quality, with only a few antiques (second-hand stuff) on display.
Some critics complain about the sameness of merchandise, especially the sock, belt, sheet, and goose feather pillow concessions, such as pictured later in this article. I, however, find unique and beautiful items at every fair and always browse when I'm in the vicinity of one. If you're a tourist, you definitely need to attend a few, as several are held almost every weekend, summer through fall.
Street fairs became particularly popular in the 1960s and 1970s, where local craftspeople showed their wares. Today, most of the crafts sold are imports, making it difficult for locals to compete on price. Fairs that use the word "art" or "crafts" in their names, however, have more local people, even though many imports seen at standard street fairs are quite obviously "arts" and "crafts."
Among the types of things sold at street fairs are jewelry, clothing, accessories, food, pictures and posters, candles, soaps, common socks, common and hand-crafted T-shirts, music, books, small tools, bedding, jeans, leather goods, antiques, bath items, decorative items, gadgets, and more. If you have a back problem, or are just tired, the ever present Chinese $5-for-10-minute massage is wonderful. Prices vary, but all back rubs are excellent.
Most street fairs feature clothing and accessories from India and surrounding countries. The fabrics are always soft, with many items containing yards of it.
If you are a craftsperson who works with fabrics (perhaps you make quilts), consider buying ultra-soft Indian cotton clothing, wearing them for a year, then using them for their fabric content. Nothing I know of makes better or softer pillow covers or quilt patches.
Consider yourself lucky when you run into African craft imports. While most items are not antiques, but look as though they are, these beautiful carvings and woodcrafts are done in a traditional manner.
If you own many house plants, you'll find that African crafts complement them perfectly. I'm partial to African gourds and baskets, but have also purchased masks, fabrics, and purses. Prices are affordable, while their artistic value is priceless.
The pictures in this article were taken at two New York street fairs in June 2004. The second fair had more importers than the first, with Chinese being particularly prominent. Among the many things they sold were tables full of high-quality, beautifully executed beads at breath-taking prices.
Chinese beads are mesmerizing. After seeing them, you'll probably want to start making your own jewelry. If you do make jewelry, you can use this opportunity to buy wholesale, or at least, bargain with the vendors for quantity prices.
Booths at street fairs are often run by families, not employees, and have a friendly feel about them. In the picture above, for example, you can see a cute Chinese baby snoozing as his parents sold merchandise.
If you are looking for purses for yourself, or need to stock a store in your own hometown, you'll find that street fairs function almost like trade fairs. Many of the people exhibiting can make wholesale connections, which, in fact, is why they are exhibiting. The owner of www.Chokorai.com (merchandise pictured above), for example, imports his own design of leather goods and scarves for wholesale and retail.
Street fairs offer a wide-range of clothing, accessories, and hats such as seen above. In the summer, you'll find straw-like hats priced between $5 and $80, while in the winter, the number of knit models is mind boggling.
Omar Rivera (above) represents Sumapaz, a family-owned business that imports crafts made in Colombia. He is definitely not as somber as this photo makes him out to be, but his products are fabulous and this is the best picture I have of both.
Here he is standing next to the wooden trays, bowels, trivets, and plates he designs that are imbedded with flower petals - no two alike! For a closer look, visit his website, www.Sumapaz.com. Most products are available for wholesale as well as retail.
All New York street fairs provide food, with many repeat food vendors. The big stands are located at street corners along the street fair route.
In my opinion, the food is always quite good, no matter what vendor, with some of it spectacular. Prices run from $5 to $10 a plate. Snacks, such as the candied fruit and marshmallows seen here, sell for $2 or $3. All food service is, of course, stand-eat-and-drip. There are no tables or chairs at a New York street fair.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I'm originally from, used to have great street fair food (German, Italian, Polish, and Serbian) until the city legislated extremely stiff food vending rules. This forced out community groups, leaving mostly big name (often boring) vendors who could afford costly food-service equipment. Let's hope that this type of misguided control never happens in New York City, where drippy plates and sticky fingers are the rule.
As I mentioned when I began this article, not everything in a street fair is related to crafts, food, and delightful imports. Many fairs feature one or more goose feather pillow stalls, and frequently, you'll find stalls that just sell sheets, underwear, or socks. Sometimes prices are lower than you'd find in stores; other times, not. Sometimes you'll find distributors unloading quality merchandise, but most of the time, these items simply fill tables to overflowing with low-cost goods, or counterfeit items (not a good deal at all).
Sweaters and children's clothing from Peru are also commonly seen in New York street fairs. It appears that a single importer runs the multiple stands, with two or more per fair.
That said, in the fall, these stands are filled with grand sweaters, hats, and mittens for adults, plus highly imaginative sweaters for children. You'll love everything and, if you are looking for items for your own store, just ask and I'm sure the merchants can provide the connection.
And, of course, always keep your ears open for the music vendors. They feature hard-to-find CDs that represent various cultures and musical types. Hang around booths, dance a little, and ask to hear samples. Hey, if you're lucky, you can even get a hug.
DATES AND ADDRESSES ARE FEATURED IN PRINT IN "TIME OUT NEW YORK MAGAZINE" AND USUALLY IN THE FRIDAY EDITION OF NEW YORK CITY NEWSPAPERS.
FOR ONLINE LISTS, TRY New York Magazine's Site, AND NYCTourist.com.
TO SHOW AT A STREET FAIR, INFORMATION ON HOW TO OBTAIN A 30 DAY LICENSE IS POSTED AT THE New York Government Site.
THIS COMPANY BILLS ITSELF AS NYC'S LARGEST STREET FESTIVAL PRODUCTION COMPANY: www.ClearViewFestival.com. 646 230-0489
Article and photos by Karen Little. First published on 7/24/2004. Last update on 7/14/2005. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.