Nonprofit Newswire | Getting Rich Off Street Fairs?

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July 10, 2010; Source: Wall Street Journal | We’ve long enjoyed the San Gennaro street fair in New York City’s Little Italy and never once bemoaned the stands selling smoothies, Italian sausages, gyros, and t-shirts for the money—probably minimal—they might be making from the milling crowds. In fact, we assumed, without ever asking, that nonprofits (or churches) were benefiting from the fairs, hopefully substantially.

But of course there are moneymakers involved and like many nonprofit fundraisers, the money makers don’t leave much for the nonprofits. The firm that organizes the San Gennaro festival was established by someone described by the Wall Street Journal as a “former community organizer and singles-club impresario,” a resume combination we hadn’t run across before. He, his wife, his business partner, and about 20 seasonal employees run fairs on weekends (during the week, he runs his political button business).

The Journal describes the costs structure of an unnamed festival as follows: “Street festival producers make their money off vendor fees—typically $150 for a 10-by-10-foot merchandise stall or $300 for a corner food stand. You can pack 34 vendors into one block, which means the typical five-block festival earns about $25,000…The city gets a 20 percent cut off the top. Next, the promoter pays for insurance, clean-up crews and portable toilets; these expenses run about $1,500 a block, or $7,500 total. That leaves $12,500 for the promoter to share with the nonprofit sponsor . . . (N)onprofits typically report their share at $6,000 to $8,000.”

For the hoity-toity, the homogeneity of the street fairs and the nuisance of the street closings are bothersome. New York’s Center for an Urban Future has produced a report complaining about the fairs, concluding, “For far too many New Yorkers, summer would be even more enjoyable without them.” The community organizier/singles club impresario/political button/street fair organizing guy has a different take: “For folks who can’t afford a trip to the shore, ‘This is their entertainment for the week.’”—Rick Cohen