Samir Ghosh’s gift shop, as (un)seen from the street. (Photo: Kai Burkhardt)

As much as many New Yorkers love the annual San Gennaro feast for its endless amounts of sausage and peppers, meatballs and just about anything that can be deep fried, it’s a huge dolore al collo for some local businesses. Last year, a whopping 945,000 pounds of trash were collected over the 11-day feast, according to Mort Berkowitz, who runs the festival. And the pizza-stained plates and discarded piña colada cups are just the start of the headaches.

Samir Ghosh, owner of a gift shop at 210 Canal, can’t stand the feast. “No more customers,” he said. “I lose my mind.” His small shop is laden with bejeweled t-shirts, shiny magnets and colorful perfumes, all flooded with fluorescent light to attract as many customers as possible. This is all in vain as he sits fiddling with coins in his storefront, completely hidden from the street behind the wooden walls of a zeppole stand. Since most of his sales depend on foot traffic, it’s bad for business when no one can see him from the middle of the street. 

Ghosh has worked at his shop for about 12 years. So few customers come his way during the feast that five years ago, he closed the shop. But he soon stopped that practice because people would steal his merchandise at night. He now stays open, for fear of losing his products. “I open, but nothing. Nothing to do,” he said. “I save my merchandise but that’s all.” 

Samir Ghosh’s gift shop. (Photo: Kai Burkhardt)

In 2011, Nolita shopkeepers and Community Board 2 tried to shrink the feast because it was negatively impacting businesses in the area. Italian Americans and supporters of the festival were outraged when a boutique owner complained of “greasy hands” staining her merchandise. Today the festival remains the same size, stretching from Houston down to Canal, but the sheer mass of people (an expected 2 million) still bring problems to stores. 

Ghosh and other business owners say many people come up to them trying to use the bathroom. Baz Bagel, located on Grand Street right off of Mulberry, posted a sign on the front door saying they don’t have one. Phillip Manapat, the store manager of the bagel shop, says service and business is disrupted when people come in to just use the restroom.

Fair warning from Baz Bagel. (Photo: Kai Burkhardt)

Public restrooms aren’t the only problem for local businesses. The blocked roads make delivery—both to and from the restaurants—slow and difficult. Amy Chin, the manager of Hometown Hotpot on Grand Street, said she had to stock up on ice cream because delivery people refuse to come through the traffic. 

Though blockades and bathrooms constantly nag the stores, many said trash is their biggest problem. Businesses said people just throw trash on the ground, dirtying their storefronts. Wara Udum, of Madhufalla and Green Hill Tea on Mulberry, said she has to clean up wrappers and other litter thrown in her doorway. The juice shop also has to walk its garbage to the end of the block instead of just leaving it outside for the city to pick up. 

Even though these are inconveniences for the store, Udum said they’re bearing it. “I don’t mind because they’re doing what they’ve been doing for [90] years now,” she said. “Nothing new, and it’s only for 10 days.”

The company that puts on the feast, Mort and Ray Productions, tries its best to keep the streets tidy. Mort Berkowitz, president of the company, said sanitation is his biggest effort. The nearly 1 million pounds of trash is picked up by a designated “clean team.” They walk throughout the festival, checking each of the 85 trash cans and trying as best they can to clean up after the feasters. 

The Clean Team: not afraid to get their hands dirty. (Photo: Kai Burkhardt)

Duane McDonald, a worker for the “clean team,” said he uses over 160 trash bags a day. “My job is to maintain this block,” he said. On slow days, McDonald said, only one person is needed per block, but as the festivities get more popular on the weekends, three are required.

Even though the feast rubs some businesses the wrong way, it is still a treasured tradition and the value it has for Italian Americans is huge. Danny Fratta grew up on Mulberry and Grand and is a fourth-generation San Gennaro vendor. He said the festival means a lot to the community. “It still keeps the neighborhood strong,” he said of rapidly-gentrifying Little Italy. “The residents from the past that used to live here,” even ones that now live outside of New York, “they all come back as a reunion.” 

The man who runs the festival knows not everybody enjoys the noise and celebration. “I’m sure there are many people who do not love this,” Berkowitz said, sitting in his trailer headquarters. But “if you move to Mulberry Street, you know that every year for 11 days there’s going to be an event.” And that tradition won’t stop any time soon.