I’m brainstorming another crazy idea here, so feel free to skip to the next article.
The idea? What if you took the quintessential New York City street fair, which happens every weekend during the Spring and Summer, and adapted it to comics? Sort of like a book fair, but with retailing and food as well as bookstores and publishers?
For those who have not experienced the typical New York City weekend street fair, the general layout is roughly 2-4 blocks long. A north-south avenue is barricaded to traffic, with the numbered streets still open to cross traffic. The wider width of the avenue allows for booths to be placed on the street next to the curb, creating a wide central aisle for pedestrians to meander. The booths are primarily either retailers or food vendors, which migrate with the fairs around the city each weekend.
Last summer, I experienced the 40th annual Atlantic Antic, which is the Ultimate Street Festival of New York City! Where generally a weekend street fair will occupy about two to four blocks of street, the Atlantic Antic runs about 14! (Check out the map below… FIFTEEN stages, three different restroom spots, four subway stations via eleven lines.)
So, what, exactly, is the Atlantic Antic?
“Comprised of local and national vendors intertwined with the offerings of trendy restaurants and boutiques, the Atlantic Antic features live music stages that showcase free performances from various cultural genres. Families enjoy pony rides, storytelling, and face painting on an entire block dedicated solely to kid-friendly activities. Best known for its eclectic delicacies, the Antic highlights an array of food from around the world in addition to street fair favorites like funnel cake, sausage sandwiches, and roasted corn!”
What if New York Comic Con wanted to expand the excitement to outside the Javits convention center? Most of Hudson Yards is still under development, the Hudson River is rarely visited, so there’s not the vibe found in San Diego’s Old Town. Which… given the street teams and crowds of Comic-Con, might be a good thing.
What if something like the Atlantic Antic were replicated on Eleventh Avenue, in front of the Javits Center?Javits runs from 34th to 40th Streets run, offering six blocks of street for the fair. With the new Hudson Yards development, the numbered streets running towards Tenth Avenue can also be closed, and one could even be used to marshal the crowds toward the checkpoints.
(I don’t drive in the City, but some friends have suggested that access to the Lincoln Tunnel might be a concern. But I’ll let the actual planners deal with that, I’m just brainstorming here.)
It’s not that crazy. Each Fall, New York Is Book Country would claim a large chunk of Fifth Avenue from 42nd to 57th streets, as well as side streets near Rockefeller Center. The streets would be filled with publishers, antiquarian book dealers, stages, and signings.
In Omaha, this has happened every Summer since 1974, where the Summer Arts Festival closes off the streets around City Hall and sells booths to artisans and crafters. There’s also a children’s area and music stage.
Up in Inwood Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts a medieval festival near the Cloisters in Fort Tryon
Park. (Next weekend, in fact.) Similar to a Renaissance Festival, the streets in the park are closed to traffic, and vendors and performers entertain for free (as well as make a nice profit).
Over in Flushing Meadows, this weekend, is the Maker Faire, which is basically an arts & crafts show, but with technology!…and, of course, the many farmer’s markets and holiday craft fairs throughout the city.
A possible layout:
Let’s start with the area in front of the Javits Center: 34th to 38th Streets. That’s four blocks, running from the terminus of the High Line park to the end of the main building. If it becomes successful, run it south to 23rd Street.
Eleventh Avenue has seven lanes of traffic, and a general width of 60 feet. The length from 34th to 38th is roughly 1,000 ft.
We’ll leave a gap where each numbered street crosses the Avenue, to allow for easy access to the sidewalk on the west side of Eleventh Avenue. That leaves about 225 feet of Avenue between each intersection.
Each booth/tent is 10×10 feet, and we’ll place a 3 foot gap between the booths. That allows for 17 booths on each side of the Avenue, for a total of 136 booths along four blocks of Eleventh Avenue. That creates a 40-foot wide aisle down the middle of the Avenue, which can be used by the general public, as well as the hordes leaving the Javits Center. (The roadway in front of the Javits Center, once used for shuttle buses, is about the same width as Eleventh Avenue.)
Who rents the tents?
- Non-profits, such as libraries, specialized high schools, fan groups, and government agencies
- Food vendors. Convention center food is expensive, as are food trucks. Street fair vendors might upcharge, but generally are in the same price range as the sidewalk vendors currently found on nearby corners.
- Retailers who either cannot afford the indoor rent of New York Comic Con, or who wish to have a secondary location accessible to the general public.
- Artists and collectives who are willing to pay more than an Artist Alley table, but less than a small press booth, to reach a wider audience. Also, ancillary businesses who sell items of interest to geeks, but not specifically geeky, like infographics, puzzles, and home brewing kits.
- Media companies who would like to market to a larger audience, similar to how movie studios set up outdoor displays during Comic-Con International.
Why do this?
- It closes Eleventh Avenue to traffic, which facilitates crowd circulation and reduces pedestrian accidents.
- It allows the general public to participate. Families can participate with the general excitement, without having to spend a lot of money.
- ReedPOP could move their children’s and family programming to the street by offering a stage and activity area on Eleventh Avenue, or in the newly-opened Hudson Park, half a block away. This frees up space within the Javits for other programming.
- It encourages NYCC attendees to leave the Javits Center, which improves crowd control and increases the general attendance capacity.
- It greatly expands the variety of food options in the immediate vicinity of the Javits Center.
- It officially claims the real estate in front of the Javits Center, reducing parasitic marketers and street teams which would exploit the large audience attending New York Comic Con.
- It allows ReedPOP to accommodate ancillary vendors who might dilute the brand if they appeared on the show floor.
Why not do this?
- It causes a new disruption in traffic patterns, both for local drivers (which include the coach buses which load along the High Line terminus) and for NYCC, which would have to reconfigure where they load their shuttle buses. (I suggest along 40th Street, via the Artist Alley exit; along 34th Street on the north side of the street; or on Eleventh Avenue, between 38th and 39th Street.) Currently, the shuttle buses load between 34th and 35th Street (which could easily be moved around the corner onto 34th).
- It brings even more people to the Javits Center area. 155,000+ attendees already attend. Add in the general public, and it becomes even more of a carnival, similar to what is now seen in San Diego.
- The neighborhood is being developed/gentrified. Community Board 4 and the Hudson Yards Development Corporation might have concerns, although CB4 most likely has experience dealing with street fairs.
- It taxes the city’s infrastructure. Traffic cops, beat cops, extra subway trains and workers would be required.
- It adds another layer of planning to ReedPOP’s preparations. Although… they managed to integrate the Anime Festival with New York Comic Con, so this isn’t an onerous proposition. 136 booths is… two and a half rows of booths on the main floor.
I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s not difficult to create, if all of the stakeholders have a voice.
New Yorkers! Have you attended a street fair, or any of the larger events I exampled above? What are your feelings about them, and what would your pre-action be to the idea of a street fair in front of New York Comic Con?
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!