Shoppers swarm Jamaica for JAMS

By Alex Robinson

Tens of thousands of shoppers streamed through downtown Jamaica Saturday afternoon to take in the 18th annual JAMS festival.

Organizers expected more than 185,000 people would attend the two-day affair, which flaunts southeast Queens’ music, food, fashion and arts.

A concert in Rufus King Park kicked off the festivities Friday evening and music continued into the next day from a stage set up in the middle of Jamaica Avenue.

A diverse array of musicians took to the stage throughout the afternoon, including reggae duo Shaffick and singer Stephanie Courtney. The crowd also danced along to a zumba class and were treated to a demonstration by the Seido Karate School, which practices at the Jamaica YMCA.

There were also activities for families as the NYPD set up a climbing wall for children and clowns blowing up animal balloons littered the street.

The festival closed down 10 blocks of Jamaica Avenue for a street fair, which capped off the event Saturday.

More than 400 vendors lined the street from Parsons Boulevard to 170th Street, selling sunglasses, clothes and trinkets. A farmer’s market took up one of the blocks off the main strip of vendors with fresh produce for sale.

“There are a lot of great sales. You can save a lot of money,” said Jamaica resident Arnice Faines, who wanders through the festival every year in search of deals to fill her shopping basket. Faines said what she really comes for is the funnel cake.

Festival-goers munched their way down Jamaica Avenue, where they could taste a long list of carnival foods, including deep fried Oreos, corn dogs, gyros, arepas and cotton candy.

“Smelling all the food is great,” said Michelle Taylor, a Hollis resident. “We usually go to street fairs in Manhattan, but it’s nice to go to something in my own neighborhood.”

Jamaica JAMS was started in 1996 by a group of residents and community leaders hoping to show off the neighborhood’s talents. A mere 7,000 people showed up the first year, but the festival has since grown to be a citywide attraction, which organizers said brings an economic boost to the community and helps to highlight the diversity of the borough.

“It brings unity to the neighborhood,” Taylor said. “You run into people you haven’t seen in a while.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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