Times Square Autumn Carnival



A visitor snacks on food from a Broadway vendor at the Times Square Autumn Carnival. Photo: Carly MacLeod.

When most people think of an autumn carnival, they typically think of Ferris wheels, food vendors, maybe some animals and …costumed panhandlers?

The Times Square Autumn Carnival on Sunday was not the standard American carnival. There were no rides, the only animals were Minnie and Mickey Mouse in oversized costumes panhandling socks, and while there was funnel cake, some stands, such as Edible Arrangements, were operating in front of their own Broadway storefronts. The crowd was hardly local: a mix of languages and accents covered the streets, and most fairgoers, such as David and Karen Hathaway of Plymouth, Mass. were there by accident.

“We got here too early,” explained David Hathaway, who waited for his wife on 52nd Street and snacked on vegetable rice from the nearby “$1 Thai Food” stand. The couple were about to go on a week long cruise, and deciding to kill time in Times Square, stumbled upon the street fair, where Karen Hathaway decided to do some shopping. She returned to her husband with five pashmina scarves that she got for a total of $20. “Stocking stuffers, for our girls,” she explained. She gestured to her head. “And I also got some feathers put in my hair!” The green, white, and red feathers cost her $35.

The carnival ran up Broadway from 47th to 57th streets, and although it was only supposed to operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., crowds were already buying gyros and $5 scarves that claimed to be cashmere by 9:30 a.m. The streets closer to Times Square were bustling, but up on 57th Street, where a large number of new vendors were concentrated, they saw little action.

“If you are looking for someone more experienced, I understand,” said Steven Agop, a first-time vendor from Old German Bakery in Hoboken, N.J. It was the bakery’s first year at the carnival, after the owner was asked to come by the festival organizers, Mardi Gras Festival Productions.  Sunday the bakery was selling, among other things, Agop’s favorite German sweet cheese pastry with strawberry filling.

Yoseff Bendavid was another new vendor who occupied a quiet spot between 56th and 57th Streets. His table had delicate metal and beaded jewelry on a simple black cloth, and he explained that his girlfriend makes it all by hand in Brooklyn. While handling the crochet gold earrings, he said that this was his first year at the carnival, as well. The location was not his choice.

“You pay, two-hundred and fifty dollars, they send the letter, we don’t have any say in the location,” he said.

Some stands had better luck, such as Souvla King, a gyro stand that had six stands throughout the 10 blocks, two of which were in the heavily trafficked block between 47 and 48th streets. Other chains, such as a family that sold iPad and iPhone cases in several locations, and Tres Bon, which operates multiple crepe and arepas (a fried cheese and corn snack) stands, also scored multiple locations on the lower, busier streets.

According to the New York City Center for an Urban Future, this favoring of a few certain vendors is common. A study released in 2006 found that 46 percent of all food permits were held by the 20 largest vendors street fair vendors, and that of those, just over half are from New York City.

Mardi Gras Festival Productions officials were strict with vendors on the scene. One official kicked out a young man trying to sell bike tours, telling him, “You can’t sell here today.” But they were nowhere to be seen when two costumed individuals, dressed as Elmo and Spiderman, got in a violent altercation, punching each other and screaming curse words. Police officers were later seen removing all panhandlers in costumes from the fenced off entrance on 47th Street.

If locals were not visiting the fair, there were at least a few running them running the stands. New York City resident Maria Cuevas belts her signature lemonade song at New York City street fairs from April through November at a Tres Bon crepe stand.

Cuevas had a deep, bellowing voice and unwavering smile: “I love my job! Even if they don’t like the lemonade, they’ll give me the money, because of my voice.” She gestured to the girls waiting in line for lemonade and crepes. “You want to help me sing?” They belted out a round of Cuevas’ “Lemon-y-ade! One dollar only! The best in New Yo-ork!” before giving her money and taking some lemonade. “People, when I’m not here, they say ‘I miss you.’ I love seeing people smiling.”