Sonia Sodhi and her mother-in-law, Surinda, dumped trays of fragrant chicken curry and matar paneer into a heavy-duty black plastic trash bag and threw it away. Thanks to a last-minute fundraiser set up to benefit a firefighters’ World Trade Center fund, the Sodhis and about 12 other vendors at the Wall Street Holiday Market downtown are losing money so fast they might as well be shoveling cash into that big black bag.
A couple of months ago, Mardi Gras Productions, a company that operates public markets, arranged with the city to run a holiday market on a block on Wall Street from December 2 through Christmas Eve. The deal: Vendors pay between $4,000 and $8,000 per booth, and Mardi Gras donates half the total vendors’ fees — $61,700 — to the Tenhouse Family Fund for the families of five firefighters killed in the World Trade Center attacks.
Vendors said they were hoping to both help the firefighters’ families and make a little money. But bad weather, last-minute planning and a slow downtown business district kept most from making a profit — or even breaking even. In fact, almost all the vendors told City Limits they were losing thousands.
“I figured I would do this to support the firemen,” said vendor Ron Sasscer, a former construction worker who paid $8,000 for his booth and estimated he’d lost about $12,000 on the deal. “That was part of my decision, and I was kind of hoping shoppers would feel that way too.”
If it weren’t for the World Trade Center attacks, the vendors would probably be raking it in — some even worked a lucrative holiday market in the shadow of the towers in previous years. But because they are not permanently based downtown, they’re not eligible for federal small business assistance tied to the attacks, noted Judy Duffy, assistant district manager of Community Board 1.
Mardi Gras director of operations Arthur Tisi denied that any vendors are losing money this year. But he pointed out that Mardi Gras set up the deal to benefit the fund, not to make money: The city charged the company a fee of only $1,015 for closing off part of the block for 22 days — but after the company pays for staff, guards, decorations, leasing the tents, port-a-johns, a generator and fuel, insurance and signs, said Tisi, “The firemen got $30,343, and we got zero.”
Some blamed the company for the bad location and last-minute planning. “It’s their job to know the business,” said one vendor who only gave his first name, Basant, and who, late last week, said he intended to file a lawsuit against the company. “I’m a fashion designer — if I send a distributor 3,000 halter tops in October, I take the loss when they don’t sell, right?”
But not the Sodhis. They praised the company, which usually makes good money for them, and said they might break even this time. To them, the market’s dismal outcome was just the risk small businesspeople have to take. “We believe it is our luck,” explained Sonia solemnly.
“Yes,” agreed her mother-in-law, nodding. “It is our fate.”