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Make the Lower East Side a 'SantaCon Free Zone,' Anti-Bar Group Says

By Lisha Arino | November 24, 2014 12:05pm | Updated on November 24, 2014 5:34pm
 The LES Dwellers Neighborhood Association sent local businesses these fliers to hang in their establishments and encouraged them not to serve SantaCon participants.
The LES Dwellers Neighborhood Association sent local businesses these fliers to hang in their establishments and encouraged them not to serve SantaCon participants.
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LES Dwellers

LOWER EAST SIDE — A neighborhood group wants Lower East Side bars to say “no no no” to SantaCon this year after the controversial event pulled out of Bushwick last week.

In a letter sent Sunday by the anti-bar group LES Dwellers, the neighborhood organization asked dozens of owners in the area they call "Hell's Square" — the nightlife-heavy area between Houston and Delancey streets from Allen to Essex streets — to make the area a “SantaCon Free Zone” by refusing to participate in the costumed pub crawl. 

The group also sent bar owners a flier they could post on their doors that reads, “SANTACON FREE ZONE. NOT SERVING SANTAS.”

“'Santa’ claims SantaCon is a harmless charity event, but we all know that it is a day-long, binge-drinking pub crawl that turns neighborhoods into trash dumps,” the group wrote in the Nov. 23 letter.

SantaCon organizers had originally planned to host the event in Bushwick, but said last week the neighborhood was not big enough for the gathering, which drew nearly 30,000 people to the Lower East Side and East Village last year.

It has not announced a new location, but the LES Dwellers feared that SantaCon “may go back to familiar territory after canceling Bushwick,” Diem Boyd, the organization’s founder and president, said in an email.

However, Community Board 3 officials said SantaCon had promised them last year that it would not hold the event in the district, which includes the East Village, Lower East Side and Chinatown. They also said SantaCon contacted them recently to say it wouldn't be swinging through the area.

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver's office, who was contacted by the LES Dwellers on the issue, heard about the committment made by SantaCon to CB3, a spokesman said.

"I am glad that the organizers of Santacon have listened to the legitimate concerns of our local residents and have agreed not to hold their event on the Lower East Side," Silver said in a statement. "I expect them to honor that commitment."

A spokesperson for SantaCon declined to speak about the deal, with a rep previously stating that "[p]art of the fun is not knowing the route."

In its letter to bar owners, LES Dwellers said the Dec. 13 event would draw drunken revelers who “are known to skip out on the tab, not tip your hardworking bartenders and waiters, vomit and urinate everywhere, harass bystanders and children, and start fights inside and outside your bar — beginning at 10 a.m.!”

SantaCon insisted that its event benefits local charities and businesses. It also said it was concerned about the group's "callow choice of language and suggestion for bars to participate in discrimination."

"If you read the LES Dwellers website you will see that they use the exact same language in their letter to describe every "Wednesday through Sunday" on the Lower East Side. The acrimony LES Dwellers has for every social drinking establishment discredits their position," the representative said.

Boyd said the group was inspired by Bushwick’s backlash against the event, which was blasted by locals, businesses and elected officials for being “repulsive” and “out of control.”

“Bushwick showed this could be done!” the LES Dwellers said in their letter to bar owners.

The group also asked local elected officials to take a stand against SantaCon.

“We implore you at this time to help us get in front of this before the LES — the easiest and most beleaguered target — is considered for SantaCon HQ,” the LES Dwellers said in a separate letter to state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Silver and Councilwoman Margaret Chin that was also sent on Sunday.

Santacon pulled the neighborhood off of its official route in 2013after locals complained about the event.

However, the neighborhood was “not completely spared,” the group told the elected officials, explaining that some Santas went off the route or continued drinking after the event officially ended.

“From noon onward visitors vomited, screamed, drank openly from liquor bottles, publicly engaged in sexual conduct, started fights, and left a trail of costumes and garbage throughout the LES,” the group wrote.

In a statement, Chin said she would oppose any attempt to make the Lower East Side part of SantaCon’s route.

The event is generally unpopular, she said, and has had an “overwhelmingly negative impact” on local residents and businesses in the past.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of the story indicated that SantaCon had responded to Community Board 3 Monday stating that the event would not be held in the area. However, it was unclear which specific day the group contacted the board.