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The Schmooze

NYC’s Jewish ‘Street Fair King’ Upset Over Cuts

To organizers, they’re colorful, family-oriented neighborhood celebrations. To detractors, they’re traffic-snarling commercial ventures that hijack streets and punish locals.

Now, after a long-simmering dispute over street fairs, New York City has decided to cut the size and hours of the outdoor bazaars, the Daily News reported this week.

Street fairs, “which often generate complaints from locals about their crowds, noise and generic offerings, will be cut by about 25%,” officials told the News.

The cuts “were greeted with applause by critics of street fairs, who often slam the events’ cookie-cutter rows of T-shirts, socks and Italian sausages,” the News said. “These are generic, soulless, corporate productions and they should be trimmed,” said New York City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who represents Manhattan’s East Side. “They cause considerable disruption for many months of the year, for little benefit to the neighborhoods they’re in.”

But Mort Berkowitz — dubbed by the News as one of “the kings of New York City street fairs”, and the organizer of Little Italy’s massive annual San Gennaro festival — disagreed.

“Street festivals give local non-profits an opportunity to reach out to the public and promote themselves,” Berkowitz, founder of Mort & Ray Productions, told the Forward in an e-mail. Street fairs, he added, “give people an opportunity to have a family day — to walk in the streets with their children without having to worry about cars and bicycles, where they can be entertained by performing artist and be able to chat with their neighbors without spending any money.”

Jewish organizations benefit from street fairs too, Berkowitz contends. “Several local synagogues and Jewish organizations such as Project Open at Lincoln Center, Congregation Rodeph Sholom and Stephen Wise Free Synagogue have participated in our festivals,” he said.

In 2010, the News reported that Berkowitz’s company had taken in $1.2 million from vendors at 22 street fairs the previous year.

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