By Charlie Finnerty | [email protected]
The Queens Museum hosted panelists from the Queens Night Market, Think!Chinatown, Citizens Bank and Epicenter-NYC the evening of Nov. 9 to discuss a recent study on the impact of local night markets in the economy of surrounding communities.
According to the study, the top reasons businesses said they participated in the night markets were to launch a new business, seek community and share family recipes or culture. The study also found that 77 percent of customers said they would like to continue to shop with the night market vendors outside of the market and 62 percent of newly-established Queens Night Market businesses were already making plans to expand their footprint. Nearly half of night market businesses surveyed said they always tried to hire staff from their neighborhoods and communities they serve. 84 percent of customers surveyed also said that the night markets were the first setting where they made purchases from the specific vendors that drew them there.
John Wang, founder of Queens Night Market, and Amy Chin, board member at Think!Chinatown, spoke alongside Citizen Bank’s business banking sales head, Mike MacIntyre, about the unique ability of night markets to launch community-based food businesses on a smaller scale with less overhead cost to vendors.
During the panel, the group discussed the unique ability of hyper-local venues like the night markets and community-level banks like Citizen to provide bespoke and individualized solutions to business owners issues, rather than trying to apply broad mandates to solve wide-scale problems that might not always be one-size-fits-all. The smaller scale, they said, also requires less overhead of emerging entrepreneurs.
One key measure highlighted on the panel was Citizen subsidizing vendor fees, effectively cutting them in half in order to maintain Queens Night Market signature low price point for customers even as inflation adds more overhead cost for businesses.
“Affordability is foundational,” Wang said.
The event also included a vendor panel discussion in which Roseangela Arnold of Brazilicious, Wanda Chiu of Hong Kong Street Food, Hana Saber Tehra of Persian Eats NYC, Lenin Costas of Don Ceviche and Joey Batista of Joey Bats Cafe spoke about their experience as part of the night markets. According to Wang, nearly 400 businesses have seen their first transaction at the Queens Night Market, making it an overwhelming success as a breeding ground for local businesses.
In the study survey, vendors and customers both overwhelmingly said the night markets were important not only for commercial dining opportunities, but also the engagement and preservation of the cultures and cuisines involved.
“Celebrating diversity is one of the chief goals of the Queens Night Market,” Wang said in a statement before the event. “We want to make sure what you’re selling is something that you grew up eating, and has personal significance to you, your family, and your cultural heritage. So far, we’ve represented about 95 countries through our vendors and their food at the Queens Night Market.”
Chin drew attention to the aftermath of Covid leaving its mark on Asian food businesses in the form of market xenophobia, an outgrowth of the spikes in anti-Asian sentiment that emerged in the earliest days of the pandemic. She said that events like the night markets are crucial to bridge cultural gaps and expose broader consumer markets to the vast array of dishes in Asian cuisine.
Looking to the future of Queens Night Market, Wang said his vision remains local. While many other states and over a dozen countries have reached out to him asking for help launching similar programming in their own cities, Wang said his focus is on integrating the Queens Night Market into the infrastructure of the borough with more permanent installations rather than setting up and tearing down the entire market each week it’s put on.
“Queens Night Market was a love letter to New York City,” he said.