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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mafia Attire Banned at Feast of San Gennaro

It's a clash of cannoli vs. couture.
Supporters of Little Italy's famed Feast of San Gennaro -- set to celebrate its 85th year in September -- are fighting a newly passed Community Board 2 resolution urging the city to consider shrinking the boisterous, sausage-filled festival by three blocks -- including one that includes beloved St. Patrick's basilica.
The recommended cutback -- blasphemous to Italian-Americans who revere the celebration -- stems from gripes by owners of snooty Nolita boutiques about the noise, crowds, cooking smoke -- and even customers attracted to the 11-day event.
'ATSA BALONEY! -  Sausage man Roberto Mereneino (inset) and other Italian merchants stink up the neighborhood, says Heewon Kim of Coqueta lingerie.
Sausage man Roberto Mereneino (inset) and other Italian merchants stink up the neighborhood, says Heewon Kim of Coqueta lingerie.
 
"They come in with greasy hands" and stain the leather handbags and $300 dresses, said Ying Ying Chong, owner of White Saffron, one of the hip shops that have popped up on Mulberry Street between Kenmare and Houston streets -- the blocks where the festival would be banned.
"I have cannolis frying in front of my store!" she said.
Heewon Kim, a co-owner of Coqueta, a lingerie shop across the street, said she sprays Febreze on the lacy undies to kill the smoky odor.
The street fair, scheduled for Sept. 15-25, normally stretches seven blocks on Mulberry, from Canal to Houston Streets, and fills four more blocks on side streets.
The Nolita opponents say the food and game booths hinder access to their clothing, jewelry and bag boutiques. Despite foot traffic of 100,000 people a day, "it's not our target clientele," Ying sniffed.
San Gennaro organizers are hotter than freshly fried zeppole.
"You can't understand the emotion we have -- the anger -- when we feel we're being attacked," said John Fratta, president of the Little Italy Restoration Association, who was raised in the neighborhood and whose grandfather co-founded the feast in 1926.
"This is our culture and our heritage."
More than 100 Little Italy residents and boosters jammed the community-board meeting Thursday to voice opposition to stopping the revelry at Kenmare Street.
That explosive recommendation was tucked into a larger resolution, quietly passed on Jan. 26, that approved other permit logistics. Vowing a "full-court press," supporters distributed fliers urging community members to bombard Mayor Bloomberg and other elected officials with calls and e-mails to keep the feast intact.
Fratta and others say Nolita boutiques are always empty anyway -- and can't blame the feast if their pricey apparel doesn't sell.
As an olive branch to Nolita, the feast organizers agreed to give the shops a discount on booths to hawk their stylish wares -- and even the chance to stage a fashion show on Mulberry Street. Both offers were refused.
To prove that funnel cake and fashion can co-exist, the San Gennaro group wants to ask Giorgio Armani or another top designer, preferably Italian, to create a catwalk for the festival.
The only taboo attire will be T-shirts with words like "Mafia," "Sopranos" and "Cosa Nostra." For the first time in its history, the feast will ban the sale of garb that glorifies organized crime.
Figli di San Gennaro, a nonprofit that has run the feast since 1996, has donated $1.6 million to charities and schools from fees charged to vendors. The city collects 20 percent of the fees.
 

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