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How to Become a Vendor in New York's Street Fairs, Flea Markets, and Holiday Markets

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 1/20/2007 - www.Littleviews.com ]

Sign for the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market The Annex in New York>>  With over eight million residents and 44.4 million tourists, more new products are tested for launch in New York City than in any other part of the United States. Despite the proliferation of new things, only a few of these items wind up on store shelves before their popularity is assured. Why?

    Retail properties near 5th Avenue and 57th Street annually rent for around $1,350 a square foot, with Midtown 5th Avenue ground floor stores renting at $1,035 per square foot.

    Budget space in the Flatiron District rents for around $263 per square foot, whereas a nice little shop on 7th Avenue in Midtown costs a shopkeeper around $479 per square foot. (Ref: Another Report, Another Rise in Manhattan Retail Rents, 11/7/2006)

Even with astronomically high store costs, which forces merchants to be very selective about what they sell, people (many of them immigrants) are still able to launch new businesses in the city. Where do they do this? Why, on the city's tried and proven selling ground: the streets and sidewalks of New York.

The Entrepreneur, the Street Fair Vendor, and the Tax Collector

For those of you who think that street sales are a simple matter, New York city and state governments keep tabs on their vendors. Whenever money changes hands, that enterprise must have a state retail (reseller) license.

New York City Street Vendor Licensing

All street food vendors must be licensed by the City of New York.

Most street vendors compete for one of a limited number of street vendor merchandise licenses. U.S. veterans, however, are always assured of a license, which explains the proliferation of street vendor sales in spite of limited licensing availability.

Vendors who sell through organized street fairs, flea markets, and holiday markets are granted temporary licenses obtained from the organizations that host these events.

Artists can sell various types of artwork on designated streets without a license, but the rules governing them are stiff. Handmade, one-of-a-kind crafts (jewelry, for example) are not defined as "art," while prints and photos are. Rules regulating free speech artist sales will be discussed in a future Littleviews article.

For further information, The Street Vendor Project is an extremely useful guide - especially its FAQ section.

New York street vendor of Kashmire imports.

High-quality imports from Kashmire are rarely present in street fairs. The wool and silk pillow cases pictured above are quite rare and are of fine quality. While the vendor is selling items individually through a New York street fair, his best customers buy wholesale. A day out on the street can be considered as advertising expense.

Best Places to Start Selling

The most easily accessible streets upon which to sell items are those defined within the boundaries of street fairs, flea markets, and holiday markets.

Street fairs are held on streets or sidewalks. Much of the merchandise you see sold is imported; however, there is plenty of opportunity for imaginative merchants and artists of all types, not just importers. Sometimes street fairs have a theme, such as "book fair," but most simply display a wide array of unrelated products, from cotton socks to gold jewelry.

A flea market is similar to a street fair, but usually features merchants who sell second-hand items. Products range from used clothing to highly spectacular or unusual collections of antiques.

Holiday markets are very similar to street fairs, except that booths stand for weeks at a time and selling hours are longer.

Not discussed in-depth here are arts and crafts fairs and Greenmarkets.

Arts and crafts fairs are a cross between street fairs and holiday markets, with an emphasis on individually created items (usually American-made) rather than mass-produced merchandise. Greenmarkets sell regional produce, such as beverages (wine, cider, etc.), food (canned goods, bread, etc.), plants, and materials (wool and yarn).

In most instances, street sale organizers guide vendor start-up. Once you have a booth, it is up to you to make it inviting and your products appealing.

Promoters and Organizers of New York Street Fairs, Holiday Markets, and Flea Markets

Promoters change over the years. As of the beginning of 2007, the following provides a solid list of resources for street, flea, and holiday markets:

    Mort and Ray Productions
    1501 Broadway, Suite 1801
    New York, NY 10036
    212 764-6330
    Mort and Ray Production 2007 vendor registration costs $45, covering all events except the Feast of San Gennaro. The fee for non-food vendors is between $150 and $210 for a 10'x10' space, depending on the event and the time of application (as of the 2006 fee schedule).

    Additional information is provided on their website, including information about a modest monthly license fee charged by the New York Department of Consumer Affairs.

    Mardi Gras Productions
    83 Maiden Lane
    New York, NY 10038
    212 809-4900
    Registration at Mardi Gras Production costs $40, and management will guide you through the process of registering with the state and city. Booth fees are not posted on their site.

    Hell's Kitchen Flea Market
    including the Antiques Garage, and West 25th Street.
    123 W. 18th Street, 8th Floor
    New York, NY 10011
    212 243-5343

    Clearview Festival Productions
    80 8th Avenue, Suite 415
    New York, NY 10011
    646 230-0489
    This is one of New York's major street fair promoters, with over 100 events. Nonfood vendors will pay either $135 or $150. The "national, institutional, and regional corporate rate" is around $250. Vendors must not sell the same merchandise as nearby stores and all must set up and break down in a quiet and professional manner.

    Woven reed African baskets sold at a New York street fair.Green Flea
    212 239-3025
    There is no application fee for the Green Flea; however, your business must be in order as described on their website. In addition to your application, your merchandise must also be approved. Antique dealers have priority. Crafts are considered. If, however, there are too many vendors of particular types of objects (jewelry, pillows, and hats, for example), Green Flea management will not approve the application until there is an opening.

    Booth sizes and prices are posted on Green Flea's website. The smallest size (5'x5') costs between $30 and $20, the mid-size (5'x10') between $40 and $65, and the largest size (10'x12') between $100 and $130, as of its 2006 schedule.

    Examples of New York Holiday Markets
    Columbus Circle and Union Square
    Email holidayMarket@urbanspace.com
    Find out more about the management company at www.Urbanspace.com.

    Booth prices at holiday markets are far more expensive than those at street fairs because more display days are involved. That said, a $9,000 booth at Bryant Park's Fêtes de Noel comes to approximately $300 per long business day.

    Note that all events on public land are regulated by the city. Park space, such as Bryant Park, that becomes overly commercialized is ripe for community protests and subsequent adjustments. These are not free market development areas.

    And more!
    Booth space opens up in private buildings and on property all over New York, especially around traditional American Holidays. To find event promoters, attend events that are advertised in newspapers and city-oriented magazines, such as TimeOut New York. Promoters will always be present as part of the event's management team, although you might have to hunt them down.

Just Do It!

It takes guts to sell on the street, yet with proper planning and help from street fair managers, what you can accomplish might enrich you for the rest of your life.

For an excellent article on the subject being a holiday market vendor, read Artisans Brave the Cold to Sell at Christmas Fairs by Elizabeth Holmes of the Start Up Journal - The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs, December 11, 2006.

Before you sign up, attend street fairs or holiday markets and talk with vendors. Check Littleviews' New York Activities and Events Calendar for dates between spring and December.

And keep an open mind! The street can be a hot and dusty place, and its conditions might lower your opinion about the quality of things sold. Don't be fooled! Many high-quality products are regularly introduced and tested for popularity at street fairs, and distributors use street fairs to make contacts with retailers from around the nation.

Karen Little

Also see these Littleviews' articles: Lea Leman's Tips for Selling on the Streets of New York City and New York City Street Artist Series: Designer Bags by a Designer You Can Meet.

Article and photos by Karen Little. First published on 1/20/2007. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.

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