Volume 78 - Number 47 / April 29 - May 5 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Saturday, May 2, 10:00am to 6:00p.m.
Greenwich Street, between Hubert and Chambers Streets

Villager file photo by Elizabeth Robert

From the 2007 Street Fair

Fresh air, food, free activities galore

Tribeca street fair beats barrel, dense with monkeys

By Scott Stiffler

When a block or two of your beloved neighborhood is blocked off to traffic — and the street is taken over by tented vendors — you can be sure it’s spring in Manhattan.

Fortunately, there’s at least one street fair at which you won’t find tube socks, cheesy surplus curios, or dangerously undercooked and unmercifully overpriced funnel cakes. What you will find is families, of all configurations, swarming Tribeca in what’s become a yearly ritual as reliable as the tide — and more fun than a barrel of monkeys (which, as any kid will tell you, is tremendous fun).

The Tribeca Family Festival’s annual Street Fair returns on Saturday, May 2, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. It’s a daylong marathon of food, entertainment and activities which unfolds along Greenwich Street (between Hubert and Chambers Streets). Dozens of neighborhood restaurants, merchants, organizations and schools will be on hand. Multiple stages throughout the Greenwich Street vicinity host a dizzying array of entertainers, along with do-it-yourself crafts, games, art projects and other uncategorizable but pleasant diversions.

Free and open to the public, the event drew more than 225,000 people last year. Although it’s not exactly one of spring’s best kept secrets, it’s certainly one of New York’s best bargains. Where else can you blow bubbles, sculpt some sand and go fly a kite — all without spending a dime? Well, the beach, yes. But the beach doesn’t have performances from “Shrek The Musical,” cooking demonstrations from local restaurants and a roving Tribeca Fun Squad leading Hula hoop contests, dance-offs and other assorted street games.

This year, there are more free activities associated with the street fair than ever before. That fits in nicely with Tribeca Film Festival’s 2009 mission to lift the spirits of those who’ve been through the economic wringer of 2008.

Peter Downing, creative director of the Tribeca Family Festival, clears up the murky matter of nomenclature — noting that some call it the Street Fair (though festival literature lists officially pegs it as The Tribeca Family Festival’s annual Street Fair). “We’ve always referred to it as the Family Fest,” says Downing. The rationale? “It’s not a one-day event that happens and goes away. It’s a festival that celebrates the neighborhood and directly links the experience of the Tribeca Film Festival to this great downtown area.”

As for who gets an invite to set up their tent, Downing is “very particular from a curator’s standpoint. We don’t let anyone just sit there with brochures — we’re not a trade show.” That means a full plate of participants offering “an experience, whether they’re there as an association or to raise funds. It impacts the audience and continues to benefit them long after the festival.”

Veteran attendees will see some past favorites, but will also notice many who are new to the Family Fest: “We have a number of folks who’ve been with us for all eight years,” says Downing. He mentions returning merchant Balloon Saloon as a fan favorite, noting their display will be dense with its namesake helium-filled orbs and only half-jokingly pointing out that it’ll look as if the tent could take to the air at any given moment.

Once famished by the blur of activities, you can fill the void with a selection of food that’s superior to the usual street fair fare of $1 Thai food, smoothies and gyros more appropriate for rubber industry applications than human consumption. Area restaurants will hawk their wares (along with Tribeca merchants) in the Marketplace Tents along Greenwich Street. Expect some delectable selections from the likes of Bubby’s Pie Company, Capsouto Frères and Duane Park Patisserie (do what you must to get one of their cupcakes).

For the first time this year, there’s the opportunity for dinner and a show — courtesy of “Tribeca Film Feast on Location.” Downing explains this new addition as “A show kitchen stage where people will be able to see the master chef or owner of a Tribeca restaurant in a preparation demonstration of one of their feature dishes.” A limited amount of audience members will get to sample the end product, and spend some one-on-one time quizzing the chef.” Downing hopes the exposure means that featured merchants will benefit all year long: “We want to shine a light on these merchants. If someone experiences a restaurant for the first time here, they’ve been given a menu and a card and will hopefully pay a visit and make it a new favorite.”

The performing talent, like the restaurants and merchants, features a combination of returning acts and new offerings.

Downing mentions the kid-friendly band Hot Peas N’ Butter, “a percussive, wonderfully delightful band” who’s loyal to their roots even though “they’ve found great success on Noggin. They started with us before they became well-known; now they have several albums.” In terms of new and notable entertainment, the “Broadway at Tribeca Hour” occurs from 11a.m. to Noon on the Mainstage. Expect to see cast members from “In the Heights” and “Shrek The Musical.”

Although all are hoping for the typically “gorgeous, spectacular” spring weather that the Family Fest has enjoyed for most of its past seven years, Downing notes that tents and covered stages make this a “come rain, come shine” event that is ready and waiting for an even bigger crowd than in the past. “This year more than ever, I hope everyone takes the time to come, and get away from the madness and bad news that’s out there. Get a balloon and have some ice cream.” Good advice, and a good way to spend your Saturday afternoon — whether you’re a kid, a parent, or a monkey recently liberated from a barrel.

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