By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Street fair season is still a few months away, but arguments are already breaking out downtown about the value of the schlock-and-greasy-food fests.
Detractors complain that the fairs generate noise, traffic and garbage, harming local businesses and reducing residents’ quality of life. Supporters argue that the fairs are worth the inconvenience because they boost the cash-starved nonprofits that sponsor them.
Further complicating matters, Community Board 1, the organization charged with weighing the pros and cons of the street fairs and issuing an advisory opinion on them, plans to raise about $30,000 this year by sponsoring seven of its own fairs.
CB1 will use the money to pay for office supplies and equipment, and also to keep a buffer against threatened city budget cuts, said Noah Pfefferblit, district manager of CB1.
"Unfortunately our city funds are not sufficient to meet our needs," Pfefferblit said in an e-mail.
Other organizations that sponsor street fairs downtown include the New York City Police Museum, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Chabad of Wall Street, the Independence Plaza Tenants Association and the 1st Precinct Community Council.
Good causes or not, many people downtown loathe the fairs.
"It hurts our business," said Hiroko Uchimura, assistant manager at Bit’z Kids, a Japanese clothing store on Greenwich Street, where CB1 sponsored a fair last year and is planning another one this year. "They have so many vendors. Everyone would pay attention to them, and they couldn’t even see us."
Uchimura said Bit’z Kids saw a 30 percent decrease in business during last year’s fair. She was surprised to hear that it was sponsored by Community Board 1.
Since the board knows the street fairs are not popular, the staff is working with the city to find alternate locations for the vendors, like parks, which would not require street closures, Pfefferblit said.
Loretta Thomas, a longtime TriBeCa resident and owner of Murray Street Dance, told CB1’s Financial District Committee earlier this month that she is tired of the disruptive festivals.
"These fairs are awful," Thomas said. "They do not serve the community in any way."
With all the construction-related street closures in the neighborhood, it would be a mistake to bring back the fairs this year, Thomas said.
"No one at this table likes it either," replied Ro Sheffe, chairman of the Financial District Committee.
Some board members even voted against the CB1-sponsored fairs, saying they would be too obstructive to traffic flow.
The community board’s opinion is advisory, and the city makes the final decision about all street fairs.