Howl! festival cries foul over Boys’ Club fair

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Organizers of the Howl! festival are screaming mad about a street fair coming to Avenue A on Sat., Oct. 4 and threaten to boycott the event that they say took unfair precedence over their extravaganza.

The inaugural Howl! festival took place in late August in Tompkins Sq. Park and on St. Mark’s Pl. Organizers had hoped to hold the festival on Avenue A, but the city denied their request. After receiving a huge influx of street fair applications early this year, the mayor’s Community Assistance Unit decided to reject all new applications, said Jonathan Greenspun, commissioner of the unit.

This Saturday’s event, a street fair organized by the Boys’ Club of New York Alumni, Inc., was held last year on Avenue A and as such it was allowed to continue this year, Greenspun said. The Community Assistance Unit worked out a compromise with Howl! organizers, granting them permission to hold a block party on St. Mark’s Pl. instead of a bigger street fair on Avenue A.

Howl! featured a weeklong series of events centered around the East Village’s artistic and counter-cultural heritage. This kind of homegrown event should not have been brushed aside for the generic hotdog and handbag-selling fairs like the one that will happen on Saturday, Howl! organizers said.

“Over here we felt we took a count of the neighborhood, and [people felt] no one responded to what the neighborhood wants,” said David Leslie, artistic director of Howl!

Greenspun said the Community Assistance Unit adopted its policy to reject all new street fair applications because police resources would be stretched too thin with the additions. The unit received 39 new applications this year, much higher than usual, he said. Greenspun added that the office went out of its way to accommodate Howl! on St. Mark’s Pl., in large part because it recognized that the event had the support of the community and local elected officials.

Community Board 3 has a rule that only one street fair per avenue is allowed per year. However, all community board recommendations are advisory and the city has no limit on the number of street fairs per avenue per year, Greenspun said.

Some Avenue A merchants are dreading this Saturday’s street fair. Charles Branstool, owner of Exit9 Gift Store, said that business during last year’s street fair was 40 percent off compared to a typical sunny Saturday. Vendors blocked his storefront, so potential customers couldn’t even see he was there, Branstool said. This year, Branstool has had great difficulty contacting the professional event planners running the festival for the Boys’ Club alumni association.

“This alone makes me feel they’re not here for the community, that they’re just here to make a buck off the East Village,” he said.

Phil La Lumia, who sits on the board of directors of the Boys’ Club of New York Alumni, Inc., said that all the money raised at the fair goes to the Boys’ Club Harriman Clubhouse on E. 10th St. La Lumia, a former member of Community Board 3, who has been active in Boys’ Club activities since 1934, said, “Whatever we raise in this community, we keep in this community.” La Lumia said the event raised $12,000 for the Boys’ Club last year.

Phil Hartman, executive director of Howl!, disputes the contention that the Boys’ Club alumni group gave all its proceeds to the Boys’ Club on E. 10th St. Habib Ullah, outgoing director of the Harriman Clubhouse, said the Boys’ Club did receive some money from the street fair last year, although he declined to specify the amount and referred further inquires to another staff member who was not available for comment.

Hartman also claimed that the Boys’ Club alumni organization used illegal tactics such as forging signatures on its street fair application. Greenspun said his office would investigate Hartman’s allegations.

Howl! supporters plan to distribute flyers on Avenue A this Saturday to protest the Boys’ Club alumni street fair.

One flyer reads: “Sox and sausage street fairs hurt local businesses, inconvenience local residents and displace indigenous local events that bring entertainment, education and economic benefits to the community.”