Chelsea street fair faces new round of challenges


The fair has attracted vintage collectors and other vendors for 24 years, but each year could be the last, according to Andy Humm, the president of the London Terrace Tenants Association. Photo: Amanda L.P. Gomez.

The London Terrace Street Fair in Chelsea has attracted vintage collectors and other vendors for 24 years. Photo: Amanda L.P. Gomez.

The London Terrace Tenants Association hosted its 24th annual street fair in Chelsea on Sept. 24, just days after Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed changes to street fair regulations.

The annual festival on West 24th Street, which this year supported the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, has been struggling for some years as higher fees and bureaucratic processes weigh on the organizers who are mostly volunteers that live at London Terrace. There are a number of fees related to the event; the tenants association has to pay $400 for insurance and each vendor pays the association to participate $70 to $120 of which 20 percent goes to the city.

“I would assume a fair like ours will survive the new regulations, but we don’t know that,” said Andy Humm, president of the London Terrace Tenants Association.

The organizers faced complex document filing systems that required the association to re-submit permits and requests, because the tenants initially filed the wrong document. The amount of money raised at the fair has not been calculated yet, “but in the end, we would have been lucky to have broken even,” said Humm.

City councilman Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, helped the association get around some of the bureaucratic roadblocks.“If Corey hadn’t interceded with the city, I don’t know if we could have had the fair this year,” said Humm.

About 200 street fairs will take place in New York City this year, according to the mayor’s office. The number has steadily decreased since the Bloomberg administration implemented rules aimed at reducing the amount of commercial street fairs in the city. The former mayor wanted to prevent fairs that disturbed local businesses and city life.

Mayor De Blasio’s proposed rules build on Bloomberg’s restrictions by, among other things, requiring non-profit organizations to be properly registered, distinguishing between street festivals and block street festivals, and limiting the amount of permits for fairs in Manhattan by community board. Fairs will also be required to have at least 50 percent of its vendors come from the same neighborhood where the festival is being held. Under the new rules, the city will continue to collect 20 percent of vendor fees to pay for traffic control and administrative costs.

“By the time you do everything, there’s no profit,” said Inge Ivchenko, a member of the tenants association who helped plan this year’s street fair.

Vendors lined West 24th Street selling an array of goods from vintage clothing and accessories to household items, including records and furniture. Many fair-goers spent their time talking to vendors who were also neighbors, while some children set up smaller stations to sell lemonade, toys or Pokémon cards. 

The event began as a way to profit the tenant association in 1992, said Jocelyn Tord, one of the founders of the fair. “I don’t think its time has passed,” she said. “It’s a great community builder.”

Marissa Sabetelli, owner of Marissa’s Closet on the ground floor of the London Terrace, said having a table at the fair helps her business. The location has been a “huge advantage” for Sabetelli’s clothing and accessories store that used to be in Brooklyn. “I feel very much at home here,” she said.

Some vendors exclusively sell at street fairs, like Gabriel Mordoch from The Fast Turtle, which doesn’t have a permanent retail location. Mordoch usually sells his colorful decorative blankets at commercial street fairs, but a friend had recommended the London Terrace Street Fair. “You stay at a shop and it’s a graveyard,” he said.

Chelsea residents Katie and Craig Glantz shared their space on the street with their children, Lexi and Judah. Lexi, who is in the first grade, priced her small toys as high as $10 and then bartered down the price to as low as 50 cents. The street fair helps parents teach the kids manners and math, said Katie Glantz.

The tenants’ association will once again have to evaluate whether to hold another street fair for next year, said Humm, who added that if the tenants decide not to, it may never come back because of the restrictions originally set by the Bloomberg administration. One thing is clear: the fair is still important to the neighborhood.

“We are trying to knit the community together,” said Humm.

The Street Activity Permit Office of the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management will hold a public hearing to discuss Mayor De Blasio’s changes to the street fair rules on October 13.