Update Below Yesterday evening, the crew behind popular food flea market Smorgasburg held a special one-night only Smorg event as part of Central Park's SummerStage series. The free event boasted a host of food-and-drink vendors, DJs and dancing, and planned to run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.—unfortunately, organizers underestimated the number of people who would show up, and cops had to turn hundreds away by around 7 p.m.
"When we arrived at 6 p.m., the NYPD said the event had shutdown," Milton Spiegel, who tried to attend the event with his wife, Harriet, told us. "A police sergeant in a white shirt said the event was his; safety was his concern; no additional people would be let in; and everyone has to go home. The scene was very chaotic. The event was a colossal joke given the hype." Spiegel estimates several thousand hopeful attendees were turned away.
Others who were shut out of the event took to social media and Smorgasburg's Facebook page to voice their outrage:
— sarah (@UWSmonsteir) September 20, 2014
— Leah Williams (@leahkathrynw) September 20, 2014
— NYC Food Photo (@NYCFoodPhoto) September 20, 2014
Really disappointed in @smorgasburg tonight. How do you ONLY anticipate 1000 people. It's s a FREE event on a beautiful Friday night?
— Nom In NY (@NomInNY) September 20, 2014
A number of Facebook posters also complained that people weren't being let in even as the venue inside emptied out. "I didn't realize the music had stopped and it's true that the vendors (we spoke with several) were really disappointed and just waiting for customers bc [sic] there was so much room inside after people had left," one poster wrote. A tipster tells us:
There was definitely room inside after awhile and they definitely still had food left. They even stopped the DJ from performing before 7pm probably because they were so damn concerned about drawing an even huger, angry crowd outside. We waited over an hour outside together because we couldn't possibly believe they wouldn't let people in as the masses exited. We watched hundreds upon hundreds exiting, food in hand. We also watched, for over an hour, thousands show up and be turned away.
According to Smorgasburg co-founder Eric Demby, organizers didn't realize so many people would show up to the event, which was held at Summerstage's 4,000-or-so capacity Rumsey Playfield. "The turnout exceeded everyone's expectations," Demby said. He noted that this was Smorgasburg's first official Summerstage event, and since it was free and not ticketed, organizers were unable to gauge how many people were going to show up. "By 6 p.m., there were long lines and we were already at capacity at the venue. It was pretty clear people weren't going to get in, and you don't want to make people wait on line if they're not going to get in."
Organizers tried to tell people on line that the venue was no longer taking attendees, but were unable to disperse the large crowd. "Police took control at that point," Demby said, noting that they eventually had to shut off the music in hopes of alleviating the crowds. "It was the responsible thing to do. We feel terrible." He added that the event "got out of hand."
Demby says the Smorgasburg crew's disappointed by the outcome of yesterday's event, but they may hold a similar Summerstage event next year. "We definitely see the potential to do this again next year, but it will have to be done differently," he said. "It was going really well for the first 2 hours. There was food and dancing, so we're really disappointed. Everyone's mostly disappointed that we didn't get to the end."
Last night's apparent disaster aside, Smorgasburg returned to its usual Saturday spot at Williamsburg's East River State Park, and it looks like everything went swimmingly.
Happy to report @smorgasburg in Williamsburg today is awesome. Short lines even 4 cult faves and lots of delicious food avail. Nicely done!
— sunshinestates (@suntravelnyc) September 20, 2014
Update: Brooklyn Flea has now issued a public apology on their website:
Public Apology: To everyone who attended our Central Park event last night, we are deeply sorry for how it turned out, and for the inconvenience it caused so many people. This was a smaller event (in terms of both vendors and square footage) than the weekly markets in Brooklyn. Despite not being heavily marketed, the event ended up attracting many thousands of people, far beyond our expectations. We reached capacity at the venue by 6pm—far quicker than expected—and it became clear that the thousands more waiting on line at that time were not going to get in.
The only responsible decision, which we arrived at with SummerStage and the Police Department, was to disperse the crowd by being honest that entry just wasn’t going to be possible last night. We feel terrible that this event didn’t live up to the high standards we strive for with everything we do. This was a new type of event for us and SummerStage, and although we planned it very carefully in advance, the response simply exceeded anyone’s expectations. Please accept our sincere apology, and know that we’ll make sure everyone who wants to can enjoy our events in the future. Thank you.