Despite the chilly windy afternoon, merchant stands lined the long stretch of sidewalks in Astoria running along Broadway from 47th street to Crescent, on Sunday, September 22. The annual Broadway Astoria Street Festival has become a recurrent attraction for Astorians and visiting New Yorkers.
The overall mood seemed jovial, in spite of the unpredictable weather and looming chance of rain. Large crowds were out gathering over what seemed a line of never ending booths, all parked in front of their respective businesses while others were just guests to the distinctive block. Rising smoke from food stands and several musician’s music dominated the colorful and festive fair.
The Broadway Merchants and Professionals attracted every type of business from healthcare with first time participators Affinity Health Plan to a veteran balloon artist that had been attending the fair for several years. “I’ve been coming to the festival about seven years now. It’s a tradition,” says Earl Hicks, who runs Zoom Entertainment and was handing out balloons in shapes of flowers to parents who had their kids in tow. Hicks, who was decked out in a bright multi-colored suit along with a headpiece made of balloons, explained that it’s a one-day cultural hub of businesses getting together and promoting themselves and the diversity in the neighborhood.
Noting this diversity were long-time pals, Joe Chiappetti and Steve Califano, true residents of Astoria who have lived in the neighborhood for over 30 years, were sitting back and enjoying the cheery atmosphere. “Every ten years it changes,” explained Chiappetti, “it’s a [culturally] transient neighborhood.” Califano added that the most memorable moments he had at the fair from previous years was when he would walk out towards Steinway Street, and it would take him about 30 minutes just to get passed saying hi to everyone. Now there are “a lot of young people,” he said, though he believes that this adds to the new vibrant influences apparent throughout the fair.
Enjoying these new offerings were Astoria newcomers exploring the food and wares on hand. Newly transplanted Indiana native, Clark Bockelman praised the fair for its welcoming feel and laid-back flair. Explaining his country roots, Bockelman noted that the atmosphere was more relaxed and vast diversity was proving to be more than he had found in Manhattan to date.
Among the businesses hosting their tables were musicians sprinkled around the long strip on Broadway. Closer to Steinway was a group of musicians from Peru that had drawn in an enamored crowd with their Andian music. While at the opposite end, newbie BBQ hotspot, The Strand, was hosting their first block party ever with the “gypsy-punk rock band,” Bad Buka. A crowd quickly gathered to watch while the lively band urged their spectators to “make a new friend,” and introduce themselves to the person next to them.
With the success that this year’s festival brought to the community, organizers Clearview Festival Productions are already planning for next year’s fair. “Next year we’re looking to bring a lot of new events,” said Robert Ashe, Exhibitor Director for Clearview. Ashe’s organization has been managing the festival for about 15 years and notes that reception has always been successful but he hopes to bring a new edge next year that will separate it from Astoria’s five other street fairs that take place throughout the year.
As for Sunday’s event, what was notably the underlying theme of the festival, Astorians of all age groups and cultural backgrounds gathered on around Broadway to celebrate each other’s diversity and embrace new friendships, even if it was just for a few rounds of block party beers and some “gypsy-punk rock” songs.