October 5, 2021
(NEW YORK CITY) — Vendors diligently prepared their stalls against a backdrop of Italian-flag-lined streets to welcome New Yorkers and visitors to the city’s 95th anniversary of the Feast of San Gennaro last month.
The morning of September 19 marked the third day of the festival, which returned after being canceled last year due to COVID-19. Though the pandemic has resulted in many changes, vendors said they found familiarity in their quiet morning rituals ahead of expected crowds.
Positioned on the corner of Mulberry and Spring, Joseph DeThomas of Donato’s Twisted Potato’s (pronounced with soft A’s to rhyme) is no stranger to the cadence.“It’s the people,” he said grinning when asked what brings him back year after year. “The people that come, the vendors that sell, the customers. It’s really all about the people.”
DeThomas, like many other vendors, arrived promptly at 8 a.m., noting that the morning and evenings were the only quiet times, because that’s “when stands are closed and cleaning.”
“In the morning, we make sure we get whatever supplies we need so we’re ready for people,” he said. DeThomas explained that with a larger law enforcement presence in recent years, this process has become more organized.
Unable to recall if 2004 or 2007 marked his first year, DeThomas described the fair’s recent evolution with “swanky, fancier restaurants.” COVID-era dining solutions only reinforced this notion, as rows of tents and food trucks now were intermingled with decorated dining patios.
A few blocks down the street, a worker who identified herself as Olga but declined to share her last name wiped the glass of La Bella Ferrara Bakery’s cannoli display.
Aside from a notable appearance in the 1987 film “Moonstruck,” the bakery is known as a gathering spot for vendors to say hello and grab coffee before the streets become bustling with people.“The morning is a little sleepy, but we anticipate big crowds,” she said, taking a break from cleaning. “Everyone always has a little buzz.”
It wasn’t lost on Olga and other vendors that they have been the “lucky ones” during what has been an extremely challenging year for small businesses.
“This is how we keep small businesses alive,” she said, emphasizing the community aspect between vendors. “We’re like a family. It’s like we get to introduce you all to our family.”