The New York City Street Fair – What It Says About New York – and America

by brian on November 3, 2011

If you’re a resident or visitor to New York City, especially on a weekend, you may be walking in midtown Manhattan and all of sudden discover that the street is closed off to vehicle traffic. You find yourself suddenly in a car/truck/taxi/bike free oasis in the middle of a typically busy street. You look up the street and it there is a mass of people but no cars. Why?

It’s a New York City street fair, usually stretching 10 or more city blocks up and down both sides of the street.

New York Street Fair Empty Street The New York City Street Fair   What It Says About New York   and America

I know exactly what to expect at these street fairs but I always find myself sucked in. Here’s your guide to what you’ll find at your typical Manhattan street fair.

You’ll find a gyro stand on every block. Or should I say gyro, cheesesteak, Italian sausage with onions stand. Absolutely not good for you, but hot, greasy and delicious. Aperas seems to be on every block also. It’s a sweet corn mixture, grilled or fried until crispy on both sides with a layer of mozerella cheese in in the middle. I had one for the first time. Eh, I’ll pass on the next. You’d think you’d see hamburgers and french fries, maybe pizza but nope. I saw a New York City food truck stationed along the street. I think you’ll see more of those as food trucks get more and more popular. French crepes, candy apples and “homemade” lemonade also represented.

New York Street Fair Gyros The New York City Street Fair   What It Says About New York   and America

Why scarves, I don’t know. If your neck is exposed, it won’t be after visiting a fair. Every type of scarf imaginable. I think scarves have taken the place of tube socks. New Yorkers know what I’m talking about. There was a time when tube socks were on every block during a street fair. The last few I’ve been to, I have not seen any socks. But along with scarves you’ll find all kinds of clothing from toddler onesies to t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats with the typical New York signage.

New York Street Fair Scarves The New York City Street Fair   What It Says About New York   and America

iPod Accessories
If you need a case to protect your Apple investment, an extra electrical plug for your iPhone or iPad you will find it here. From plain black to Hello Kitty and tie-dye colors you’ll find it a New York street fair. Sorry Android and Blackberry fans. The vendors don’t care for your products.

New York Street Fair iPhone The New York City Street Fair   What It Says About New York   and America

You’ll find a few fortune tellers and palm readers, who never seems to have anyone sitting in their chairs. They always seems so lonely with everyone walking right by them.

What else you say? Bonsai plants, perfumes and colognes, tools, jewelry, t-shirts that light up when you play music, mix CDs of reggae and salsa music, the list goes on and on…. it’s like Wal-Mart set up show in the middle of a Manhattan street.

MarioTravels said:
“Street fairs around the world are great for soaking up raw culture/authentic food. Also great place to mingle w/ locals.”

I don’t think that is the case with Manhattan street fairs. I’m sure if you look at the “Made In” stamp on the items sold you’ll find the usual suspects: China. India. Taiwan. Thailand. Mexico. Is Italian sauage with onion and peppers American or just co-opted from Italy. How about the gyro? The food is street food from other countries.

So is a NYC street fair is not representive of “America” and what is it. I contend it is, but not in the sense that Mario thinks about it. America is a nation of consumers. The street fair is just a microcosm of that. Nothing good or bad about that, just way it is.

America is the melting pot of consumers. Do we create? Sure we do. Just not like the Ghana making wooden tribal masks or the woman in India making scarves. Our street fair is a reality that is far different from souks of Morocco or the markets in Ghana. Is it any better or worse? That is up to your own interpretation.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin Smith November 8, 2011 at 12:34 PM

This is post so true. You can’t forgot about the booths blasting reggaeton/salsa/hip-hop music and selling bootleg mix CDs every other block and the ShamWow guys. I actually look forward to the street fairs every summer even if they are the same vendors year after year and fair after fair. It is just such an NYC summer thing to do.


brian November 11, 2011 at 6:48 AM

It is a NYC summer thing to do. Just walk the streets, eating as you go along and look at scarves and other assorted knicknacks…


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