Brooklyn Boro

Smorgasburg’s back on the Williamsburg waterfront — with a catch

Under new plan, food festival now cleans up bigger footprint

June 4, 2021 Raanan Geberer
Smorgasburg. Eagle file photo
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In the wake of recent controversies over the design of Marsha P. Johnson State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront, the popular food fair Smorgasburg is returning to the park on June 26 — but only as part of a one-year agreement.

May would have been the 10th anniversary of Smorgasburg’s presence on the Williamsburg waterfront had it not been interrupted by the coronavirus. Smorgasburg is also returning to Prospect Park, starting June 13.

Work on the previously-approved, garish “plastic park” design for Marsha Johnson State Park was halted in March, following an outcry from neighborhood residents.

As far as the food market is concerned, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) had originally issued an RFP for a five-year contract, with an option to extend for another four years, according to published reports.

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However, some locals, even before the Plastic Park controversy, had criticized Smorgasburg for taking up too large a space within the park on summer weekends.

A porchetta sandwich from Smorgasburg. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

In April, State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher wrote a joint letter to State Parks urging only a one-year contract.

“Given the undeniably tumultuous rollout of the proposal to renovate the park, and the remaining questions regarding what the physical space will be able to accommodate (since the design is still not final), a term of five to nine years does not seem reasonable. A one-year term will allow us to provide the business that is awarded the contract an opportunity to recover financially after a difficult year, while leaving open the possibility of revisiting what would be the best fit for a longer term,” their letter read.

Apparently, Albany listened to their request. According to State Parks, the new one-year contracts calls on Smorgasburg to:

* Reduce season and capacity. Operating under New York Forward guidance, the 2021 food fair season will operate each Saturday from June 26 through Oct. 30. Vendor capacity for each food fair will also be reduced from 100 participants to a maximum of 70.
* Expand cleanup efforts. Smorgasburg will dedicate full-time staff to clean the entirety of Marsha P. Johnson State Park and a four-block radius around the park including multiple efforts along Kent Avenue, North 7th, 8th and 9th streets on event days.
* Cast an open call for food vendors based in Williamsburg and Greenpoint and “aggressively recruit a diverse workforce, including transgender women of color and LGBTQ employees to participate in this season’s market.” Marsha P. Johnson was a Black transgender activist who took part in the Stonewall uprising and was active in ACT-UP.
* Conduct fundraising and awareness drives to address “food insecurity.”
* Reinvest licenses fee into the park. Smorgasburg’s previous fees and park improvements have gone toward the park house now under construction, installation of electric service to the park event space and installation of WiFi on the south side of the park.

“Smorgasburg has always been a celebration of culinary diversity, and we see great potential for the food fair to enhance our work to make Marsha P. Johnson State Park a beacon of cultural diversity,” said State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. “New York’s State Parks belong to all New Yorkers and should reflect the diversity of our culture — and ensure that everyone feels welcome.”
“The only silver lining to losing so many businesses during COVID is the opportunity to deepen our commitment to equity among both our family of vendors and our own team,” said Smorgasburg co-founder Eric Demby. “More than 1,000 small businesses have started at Smorgasburg in its first decade, with the majority of vendor-owners being women and/or members of a minority group.

“The market allows access to a huge audience for entrepreneurs who lack access to capital to invest, and is a proven launchpad for local and diverse small businesses. We can’t wait to introduce a wave of new faces to our fans,” he said.

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