Street fairs are not unique to New York City. But a recent report by the Center for Urban Futures explores how to improve upon New York’s venerable street fairs, many of which have become staid, boring and, just like the local mall, exact replicas of one another. The lessons and ideas presented in this report are helpful way beyond the boundaries of New York City. This report is a great read for folks looking for new ideas or new ways to develop interesting, unique street fairs that support local businesses and help develop your commercial district brand more effectively.

In New York, street fairs are an industry that has increasingly become controlled by a few companies, who roll out the same tube sock vendors and crepe vendors over and over again. This report includes interviews with experts who explore ideas, and share best practices, for creating great street fairs. Some of the interviewees mentioned my own pet peeve – the fact that street fairs often turn their back on neighborhood businesses. In fact, many business owners hate street fairs for that reason. The booths typically turn their backs to the businesses, close the streets to traffic, and as a results end up hurting business for the merchants that are there all the time.

A few tips for street fairs to keep in mind:

  • Engage local merchants, artists and vendors in a street fair is what gives the fair flavor and authenticity and should be encouraged. Help local businesses drive sales by encouraging them to set up a table and sell on the street along with other vendors.
  • Quality matters. Tap local vendors and businesses who offer great quality food and products. Consider starting small and being selective with who participates at first. This is how to ensure your fair is differentiated from others – and how to make sure it grows over time.
  • Don’t ignore the businesses! Instead of setting up vendors so that they face the street (and therefore their backs to local businesses), set up the vendors so that you have two aisles with the vendors in the middle of the street. This set up helps ensure that foot traffic during the fair also benefits the formal merchants. The picture that accompanies this article shows The Castro Street Fair in San Francisco. Note that the vendors occupy the middle of the street – not the sidewalk side of the street.
  • Consider the fair an extension of your brand. Street fairs are also a great way to brand your community. Consider ‘Pickle Day’ by the New York Food Museum on New York’s Lower East Side. This fair plays upon the area’s history and heritage as a destination for wonderful pickles. What could be more unique than that?

Here is a link to the report….“New Visions for New York Street Fairs”