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Residents Rally to Keep Decades-Old Craft Fair on Columbus Avenue

By Emily Frost | May 1, 2014 6:49am
 The craft fair's contract was not renewed after the local community board rejected its proposal. 
Residents Fight to Keep Columbus Avenue Craft Fair
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A collection of residents is rallying to support a 34-year-old craft fair that's been booted from the neighborhood, arguing that it's an important venue for artists.

Community Board 7 voted in September 2012 to end Crafts on Columbus' decades-long run after residents complained it was burdening the neighborhood with heavy foot traffic and sidewalk congestion. The Parks Department did not renew its contract, which runs through this year, making May 11 its last day, an agency spokesman confirmed. 

But a growing coalition of residents is fighting the decision, signing on to a petition they hope will save the fair.  

Resident and local artist Peter Salwen organized an online petition that's already netted 290 signatures.

He argued in the petition that the fair offers "the opportunity to get unique and beautiful gifts and collectibles direct from the people who make them, in a friendly, low-pressure setting".

The bi-annual craft fair features 100 vendors selling handmade ceramics, toys, jewelry, glassware, sculptures and paintings. It runs between West 77th Street and West 81st streets over six weekends in October and May. 

The vendors "depend on this and a dwindling number of such venues for much of their livelihood," Salwen explained in his plea. 

Other residents are speaking up about the fair's importance as a vestige of a more eclectic neighborhood.

The fair captures the "yesteryear feel of Columbus when it had an 'artsy' and not upscale cachet," said resident Blair Sorrel, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than three decades. 

But locals who live near the fair, which sets up next to the American Museum of Natural History, testified that the area has become too overcrowded. 

"There's just too much activity in such a small area on the weekends," said Steve Anderson, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association, adding that he and other association members are not against crafts or craftmakers.

He said he hoped the fair would find another location. 

However, Simon Gaon, director of American Arts and Crafts Alliance, Inc., which runs the fair, said he's not considering another spot.

"It takes years to build a show. We have a lot of experience, and this is the only one that works for everybody," he said. 

He offered to hold the fair on only two weekends, instead of six, but the proposal was rejected by Community Board 7 in 2012, he said. 

City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal has pledged her support, which makes Gaon cautiously optimistic, he said. 

"I think if a councilwoman gets behind us, I think they’ll have to talk to us," he said of Community Board 7.

At a town hall meeting she hosted Wednesday night, Rosenthal said she'd hate to lose the fair. 

"It would be a shame if the one fair that we have that’s a real craft fair is the one that we close down," she said. "I’m going to do everything we can do to turn that situation around."

The board does not typically re-hear issues it has decided on, said CB7 chairwoman Elizabeth Caputo. But given the handful of letters she received in the mail from residents pleading to keep the fair, as well as the petition, "we’ll take a second look at it," Caputo said.

However, she would not commit to putting the renewal application on any upcoming meeting agendas.

"If nothing else," Gaon said of the outpouring of support, "it’s nice to know that that many people feel that strongly about it."