Dancing in the streets
Business district expects 25,000 visitors for second Downtown Street Fair
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Sep 09, 2012 | 2896 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LET THE MUSIC PLAY – The All About Downtown Street Fair will include three music stages this year.
LET THE MUSIC PLAY – The All About Downtown Street Fair will include three music stages this year.

When the folks at the Historic Downtown Jersey City Special Improvement District (HDSID) decided to throw the inaugural All About Downtown Street Fair last September, they thought they’d be lucky to get 5,000 to 8,000 local residents and their friends to show up. Organizers were stunned when the streets around Newark and Jersey swelled with crowds that topped 15,000 to 18,000 people.

When the All About Downtown Street Fair makes its sophomore return on Saturday, Sept. 29, this time the HDSID will be ready.

“We did not expect the turnout that we had last year,” said Nikol Floros, executive director of the HDSID. “So, we were a little understaffed. We definitely did not have enough police coverage. We didn’t have enough [bathroom] facilities for people to utilize. We’ve corrected those things for this year’s street fair. Those things are going to be amped up quite a lot.”

And for what it’s worth, the number of vendors and entertainment acts has also been increased for this year’s street fair.
Organizers expect to attract 25,000 visitors for this year’s street fair.
Modeled after the successful Everything Jersey City Festival hosted each May by the Central Avenue Special Improvement District in the Heights, the fair is designed to highlight businesses in the area and boost local commerce. While the Newark and Jersey corridors are teeming with cute restaurants, bars, and boutiques, these businesses must still compete with comparable establishments in nearby Hoboken, New York, and Newport Centre Mall. In recent years the HDSID, downtown merchants, and residents have sponsored several efforts to remind residents to shop local, including the annual Make My City week.

But Floros said more was still needed.

“You know, when people think of ‘downtown,’ they assume it covers Newark [Avenue] and Jersey [Avenue]. But ‘downtown’ really doesn’t include those areas,” Floros told the Reporter last year. “Downtown really is just the waterfront. And I think, yes, people are pretty aware of what the waterfront has to offer. But I think people forget about the businesses on Newark, Jersey, Montgomery, Grove.”

Showing off their wares

For the street fair, which takes place on Newark Avenue between Grove Street and Jersey Avenue, area restaurants and shops are invited to set up outdoor tents under which they can sell their goods. The idea is to bring attention to shops and boutiques located on side streets that might be off the beaten path, and which might be overlooked, or forgotten, by the shopping public.

Local music acts and craft artists will also be on-hand to lend a party atmosphere to the festival.

“We’re doing music in three different locations,” said Floros. “Last year, there were some areas of the festival that were in need of more music.”

Floros estimated there will be 75 to 90 vendors and 12 to 14 food trucks. In addition, many restaurants located along Newark Avenue between Jersey and Grove will have outdoor seating areas set up for the day.

Interestingly, Floros said the HDSID this year expanded advertising for the street fair and promoted the event in New York City and Hoboken – cities that often attract shoppers from Jersey City. With the added visitors from neighboring municipalities, the HDSID expects to attract about 25,000 visitors for this year’s street fair.

Music and food will be available for the street fair from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Vendor booths will shut down at 8 p.m.

Long-term viability?

Floros said the HDSID board fully expects All About Downtown to be an annual event and to be back next year, which is ironic, given that its predecessor in the Heights is currently in jeopardy. Two days after holding its fifth annual Everything Jersey City Festival this past May, the Central Avenue Special Improvement District announced the organization may not have the funds needed to return in 2013.

This year, all of the city’s central improvement districts received $50,000 in residual funding from the state Urban Enterprise Zone Program (UEZ). In the case of the Central Avenue Special Improvement District, this $50,000 grant was $42,500 less than the organization received last year.

Launched in 1983, the UEZ Program was started to stimulate the local economies of the state’s once-blighted urban areas. Under the program, businesses in a designated Urban Enterprise Zone could charge a sales tax that is half of the regular state sales tax. A portion of this tax money was then returned to the city for local economic development. Through loans, grants, and other resources, Jersey City, like other enterprise zones, used its UEZ money to attract small businesses, help small businesses get started, assist businesses make improvements, and train residents for jobs. Some of the UEZ money was also used to support the city’s SIDs.

Since last year, however, Gov. Christopher Christie has been phasing out the UEZ Program and the initiative likely will not exist in 2013.

In the past, the Central Avenue Special Improvement District used a portion of its UEZ grant to promote its local commercial hub through the Everything Jersey City Festival. The loss of UEZ money next year could mean the organization won’t have the funds needed to continue this popular annual event.

While the HDSID has also seen its funding slashed due to UEZ cuts, Floros said she expects the All About Downtown Street Fair to continue.

“Financially, it’s a little tight right now. Definitely, we’re concerned. But we’ve done a lot of fundraising this year through our farmers market and other events that we do, like Groove on Grove. With the staff, board, and businesses that we have we think we’ll be able to continue to do this.”

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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