Chewing over Gennaro Feast

[media-credit name="Photo by Milo Hess " align="aligncenter" width="600"][/media-credit]

A feast for the eyes at parade: The Queen of Little Italy strutted in Saturday’s annual East Meets West Parade in Chinatown and Little Italy.

BY ALEC PRUCHNICKI  |  Before too long, the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy will be applying for a street permit to allow it to be held in September 2012. This was a routine application until last year, when representatives of Nolita merchants and residents requested that the feast be decreased in size and hours, and that its noise be reduced.

The merchants were concerned about lost business during the feast, and residents were annoyed at the noise and congestion.

I have no connection to either Nolita or Little Italy, other than going to the feast many times over the years.

I tried to interview every merchant on Mulberry St. between Houston and Kenmare Sts. — the latter which, last year, was unsuccessfully proposed as the feast’s new northern boundary. There were 17 merchants who said business was worse during the feast, five who said it was better, six who said no difference, and 11 who declined comment.

I visited the feast eight times over its 11 days. About 40 percent of the stores between Kenmare and Prince Sts. were completely blocked by the vendors’ stands, with the rest visible from the street but partially blocked.

There was a new rest area between Prince and Houston Sts. with tables, chairs and even two bocce courts. The Mulberry St. library had a window display of Italian-themed books, and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral had a blood drive — though, I admit, these may have happened other years and I just never noticed them. The crowds did seem slightly smaller then before and I think there was a lot less loud music and amplified sound.

There was also an interesting fashion show one afternoon. The fashions were mostly historical, representing clothing worn in Little Italy over the years. In essence, it was a reaffirmation of the neighborhood’s character and an answer to charges that there’s no Italy remaining in Little Italy.

Basically, if Nolita merchants believe their economic interests are harmed, they may ask for the feast to shrink. Feast supporters will likely refuse.

However, instead of rejecting the potential business of a reported 1 million feast-goers, the Nolita merchants and feast supporters should work together to find some way that these people can be lured into the local stores.

The Villager recently reported on cooperation between merchants in Chinatown and Little Italy —normally natural competitors — to increase tourism to both neighborhoods. If Chinatown can work with Little Italy, why can’t Nolita? Only a few Nolita stores capitalize on the natural tie-in to Little Italy. No other neighborhood in the city, or maybe the country, can exploit this marketing angle like Nolita can.

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