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Midtown to Turn Up the Heat on Summer Street Fairs

By DNAinfo Staff on January 19, 2011 6:31am  | Updated on January 19, 2011 8:41am

A typical summer street fair on Lexington Avenue.
A typical summer street fair on Lexington Avenue.
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By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — For many in Midtown, summer is synonymous with blocked-off streets lined with tables of $1 Thai Food, tube socks and lemonade.

All that could change this coming season.

After years of complaints from local residents and business owners about the onslaught of street fairs in the neighborhood, Midtown's Community Board 5 is considering a new set of rules that would drastically alter the layouts of fairs, as well as limit their volume and size.

The rules, proposed by the community board's Street Fairs Task Force, would limit street fairs to avenues and bar them from cross streets and Broadway altogether.

Small business owners would be big winners under the new regulations as street fair vendors would only be allowed to sell food that cannot be found anywhere else in a five-block radius. Vendors would also only be allowed to repeat merchandise items once every five blocks.

The new rules would also require that any organization sponsoring a fair have a business address within the district and would force organizers to give businesses located on streets set to be closed 30 days notice and an invitation to participate, with first dibs on tents directly in front of their stores.

Instead of being placed along either side of the road, facing in, vendor booths would be set up in the middle of a street, back-to-back, so that local businesses aren't cut off from foot traffic.

The rules would also consolidate fairs, with different stretches of the same fair sponsored by different organizations at the same time.

Of the approximately 330 street fairs that took place in the city last year, 102 were held within the confines of Community Board 5, according to Jeffrey Zurofsky, who heads the task force. About 60 of those were multi-block, multi-day festivals, he said.

"That's a disproportionate number happening in our community," he said.

Zurofsky said the task force distributed surveys to local residents and businesses to hear their thoughts about the fairs and found serious objections.

"Overwhelmingly, in almost every case, everyone responded negatively to the current situation with street fairs," he said, noting particular frustrations with sanitation issues and questions about the local benefit of the fairs.

Zurofsky said task force members hoped the new rules would help increase the amount of local merchandise being peddled at the fairs and make them more similar to those in Brooklyn, which he described as "not the shish kebab and tube sock variety."

The full board is set to vote on the new rules at its next meeting scheduled for Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. at St. Xavier High School at 30 West 16th St.

The Mayor's Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) has the final say over street fairs, but applicants must apply for community board approval first. Applicants who are denied by community boards can appeal to the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management, according to the SAPO website.