Mt. Airy Night Market a hit with the public but some vendors hoped for a bigger turnout

The return of Night Market to Mt. Airy was a clear crowd pleaser, but for some vendors and local retailers the success was mixed.  Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA) and Food Trust brought the celebrated food festival back to Germantown Avenue with a new music partnership, twice as many food vendors and spaced the event out over a longer stretch of main drag – which may have contributed to a perception of thinner crowds.

Just five minutes prior to Night Market’s 6 p.m. start, MAUSA’s Executive Director, Anuj Gupta stated that he expected total turnout to reach around 15,000.   However, Officer Rick Walter, of the Philadelphia Police’s 14th District roughly estimated attendance to be between 7,000 to 8,000 people, a number closer to last year’s draw.

While an official tally is pending, Gupta stated that he believes attendance did exceed last August’s numbers.  “I think we had the capacity for more people,” he admitted, noting that by 9 p.m. lines had fallen off for many vendors.

One change that may have affected turnout was holding the Night Market in mid-August.  In 2011, the event was held the on the first Thursday of August, whereas this time it occurred on the third.  “Doing this in the middle of August is tough,” as many people being are away on vacation, Gupta clarified.

Attendees were quite enthusiastic about the positive, relaxed vibe and queues for vendors which were significantly reduced compared to those of last year.  Most vendor lines were only a few people deep.  Foot traffic also flowed easily along the avenue.  Lines were longest at food trucks closest to the concert stage.  Family-friendly fare brought Nomad Pizza, Pitruco Pizza, Zsa’s Ice Cream and others a steady stream of hungry customers.

Crowd favorites, Los Taquitos di Puebla and Ka’Chi Korean food truck did see lines in the dozens.

Benjamin Farahmand, a native of Los Angeles who has been living in Center City for the past two years was among the folks who didn’t mind the modest wait for Ka’ Chi’s Korean edibles.  Farahmand explained that on the west coast, Korean fusion food trucks have a huge following which has spurred on the food truck trend.  He’s thrilled that Philly has its own with Ka’Chi.

Recessed off-avenue on Sedgwick Street, the WXPN concert stage showcased music from headliner, Ryan Shaw and local acts, Ginger Coyle and Reckless Amateurs.  A few hundred gathered to dance in the street during Shaw’s performance, as others stretched out on the adjacent lawn by the Acme parking lot.

Mt. Airy Contemporary Art Space founder, Colin Keefe said he believed the festival attracted the same amount of attendees as last year, only spread out over a greater distance.  Keefe stated that this year’s Night Market had been “raised up a notch” by MAUSA’s organization and the partnership with public radio station, WXPN.

How the food vendors fared

The festival grouped the food trucks near the main music stage, which helped attract a bigger crowd near Lovett library. Vendors in that area reported good sales.

By 8:30 p.m., Sweet Box Cupcakes had sold out.  “This was the most cupcakes I’ve ever sold!” gushed owner, Gretchen Fantini, who said she had baked more than 50 dozen cupcakes for the event.  Fantini said she was better prepared for this Night Market than last year in Mt. Airy when she had sold out by 7:30 p.m.

But north of Sedgwick, some of the vendors on Germantown Avenue expressed some disappointment. This is where Jimmie Reed co-owner of Little Jimmie’s Bakery Cafe had a tent set up. Food sales were “not as good as we expected,” he said. Food For All’s Stephen Schaeffer shared that he saw a “heavier flow” of traffic in the area last year.

Black Pearl restaurant proprietor, Gerald Young took matters into his own hands to bring more traffic up to the north end of the festival.  Fronting the Temptations Jazz, Blues and Gospel Band, Young belted out old-school R&B and soul favorites for an appreciative audience.  He took the DIY effort even further by furnishing extra seating on the avenue with his own tables and chairs.  Young told Newsworks that at last year’s Night Market, he saw three times as many people at his location near Mt. Airy Avenue.

New additions

The first Night Market in Mt. Airy was put on by Food Trust through a grant from the William Penn Foundation.  This time around, MAUSA had to raise all of the funds to bring it back and “experimented with a bunch of things,” Gupta said.

Special exclusive seating in Lovett Park was a new feature.  The Friends of Mt. Airy Night Market pass guaranteed a place to dine in the park as well as provided unlimited drinks through the three alcoholic beverage sponsors, Yards Brewery, Penn Woods Winery and Philadelphia Distilling.  Gupta stated that approximately 60 tickets had been sold online before the event.  Halfway through the night, 20 more had been sold onsite at the park.

Red plastic GoMtAiry cups were another way to raise some revenue.  Attendees were able to buy the drink cups for an additional $1 with their beverage purchase.  As yet, Gupta did not have total on sales.

Also new this year to Night Market was the inclusion of around 15 artisan craft vendors, clustered together just south of Mt. Pleasant Avenue.  Jewelry-maker, Elizabeth Hopkins divulged that she fared “okay, not gangbusters.” Devin McNutt, of Saffron Creations said she was pleased to have made a few hundred dollars in jewelry sales at her booth.

Kristy Modarelli, who was selling fine art drawings stated that her Aldas Project tent saw “a lot of traffic, but not a lot of sales.”  Photographer Melvin Chappell experienced the same, but felt that it was because the arts and craft vendors had “piggybacked” on a food event rather than showcase their work at an art festival.

Off the avenue, the Mt. Airy Arts Garage (MAAG) got in on the happening, hosting a exhibition of member art and a live broadcast by  G-Town Radio.  Attendance was relatively sparse through the night, however, MAAG co-founder Linda Slodki was delighted that the venue attracted a younger than usual audience, who came to hear G-Town Radio’s geek radio hosts, the Black Tribbles.

Good for the neighborhood

James Brown, a resident of New Courtland senior housing feels events like Night Market are a benefit to Mt. Airy because it “brings families out” on the town together.  The double amputee had no trouble this year navigating his motorized scooter through the crowd to score some Jamaican eats.

Local retailers told Newsworks that Night Market is still a great neighborhood event, even with smaller than anticipated attendance.  Herb Rothe, of Rothe Florists disclosed that for his shop, foot traffic had been much slower than what he saw last year, but says the festival is a worthwhile endeavor.

Greg Moritz, co-owner of the soon to open Juice Room inside The Video Library, said though sales were low, participation was definitely a good way for he and partner, Malika Washington to meet future neighbors while giving a teaser of what’s to come.

For new Mt. Airy residents Robert Bingham and Rahul Mehta, Night Market was the perfect welcome to the neighborhood.  The two moved  to the area just three weeks ago from Alfred, New York. “This is exciting!” exclaimed Mehta.

The food and music attracted near neighbors Michelle W. Johnson, of Germantown and Di-Ann Bazzell, of West Oak Lane to Mt. Airy.  The relaxed atmosphere and less-than-five-minutes of waiting in line for a bite will bring them back.   “I’ll definitely be here again next year,”  promised Johnson.

“We definitely want to bring it back,” Gupta stated.  Once the numbers are crunched, MAUSA will look to see what impact Night Market had on local vendors and retailers then “figure out what we can do better,” he commented.

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