"Brooklyn - Williamsburg: Smorgasburg - Dough Doughnuts" by wallyg is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Jun 9, 2021
Smorgasburg returns to Prospect Park and, after a snag, Williamsburg
The open-air food market returns to the Prospect Park this weekend and to Marsha P. Johnson State Park on June 26
Brooklyn’s iconic open-air food market Smorgasburg has announced that it will be returning to both Prospect Park and its flagship location, Marsha P. Johnson State Park, on the Williamsburg waterfront. Beginning June 13 the Prospect Park venue will reopen with 35 vendors from 11 to 6 p.m. every Sunday.
The Williamsburg location reopens on Saturday June 26 from 11 to 6 p.m. and will feature more than 35 vendors, many of whom will be serving at Smorgasburg for the first time because of a batch of new requirements introduced by the city.
Smorgasburg went into hibernation mode in March 2020, just like everyone else. And, like a lot of us, was forced to get creative. The team pivoted by offering “Smorg Delivered,” a delivery service that helped many of their vendors stay afloat. This to-go option will continue to be offered throughout the reopening of Smorgasburg’s venues.
Two new Smorgasburg locations, in Jersey City and at the World Trade Center opened in May in an attempt for Smorgasburg to expand beyond their Brooklyn foothold and restart their in-person sales. The World Trade Center location features five vendors, is open on Fridays from 11 to 7 p.m., and sees up to 2,500 customers passing through each weekend. The venue in Jersey City is larger, with 20 vendors and an outdoor beer garden opening soon. It is open every Saturday from 11 to 6 p.m., and sees up to 3,000 visitors each weekend.
“One of the many silver linings from the dark cloud of the pandemic is Smorgasburg returning to its roots as a local, community market,” Eric Demby, Smorgasburg’s co-founder, tells Eater. Demby noted that in Smorgasburg’s first decade, an anniversary that passed in May, the market helped launch “more than 1,000 small businesses.” The pandemic has taken its toll, though, and around half of the 90 to 100 vendors present at Smorgasburg in 2019 are no longer involved with the market.
Because of this, Smorgasburg is still accepting vendor applications for each of their locations via their website. Demby is focusing especially on elevating local small business owners that are women, people of color, and part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This emphasis on vendor diversity is, according to the parks department, baked directly into the one-year contract that Smorgasburg signed to set up at its Williamsburg location, named after the groundbreaking Black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson.
A snag in Williamsburg
The park itself has recently been the subject of controversy around its proposed remodeling. The trouble began when Governor Cuomo approved a 14 million dollar plan to revamp much of the park that included creating a giant asphalt mural of Johnson, thermoplastic fixtures, and giant foam flowers. Cuomo quickly faced a revolt from local residents who criticized the creation of a “plastic park” with a shortage of actual green space. Locals also wanted more input from the local LGBTQ+ community and felt that no one in the neighborhood had been consulted on what the park should look like.
The increased attention on the space also lead the community to reassess its relationship with Smorgasburg. New York State was initially planning to approve a new five-year contract, that could be extended another four years, for the market to operate in Marsha P. Johnson park. After the outcry in April and March around the proposed renovations however, Smorgasburg was offered a one-year contract to operate from June 26th to October 30th 2021. .”
Smorgasburg’s organizers have to comply with a swath of new regulations including hiring vendors from marginalized communities, decreasing the number of customers at each vendor, dedicating a full time staff to clean the entirety of the park on event days, conducting fundraising events to address food insecurity, and reinvesting licensing fees back into Marsha P. Johnson 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,” Commissioner of New York State Parks Erik Kulleseid said after announcing the contract.
Demby remains unfazed. “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,” he tells the Brooklyn Eagle, adding that he “can’t wait to introduce a wave of new faces to our fans.”