Queens Night Market to return in June at reduced capacity

Although regulatory guidance is being updated frequently, the Queens Night Market expects to start its season operating at a reduced capacity in accordance with the state’s most recent advisory for open-air markets in June. (Photo by Sarah Choi)

After canceling its season last year due to the coronavirus, the Queens Night Market is returning for its sixth season to Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Saturdays, starting June 19. 

Although regulatory guidance is being updated frequently, the event expects to start its season operating at a reduced capacity in accordance with the state’s most recent advisory for open-air markets. 

Because the reduced capacity will adversely affect the vendors’ ability to profit, the Queens Night Market will introduce timed and ticketed entry in order to waive vendor participation fees for as long as attendance restrictions are required. In addition to offsetting vendor fees, the advance ticketing will help the organizers comply with attendance limits.

Tickets are $5 and should be purchased in advance — children under 12 are free. If tickets remain unsold for any night, tickets will be $8 at the door.

The event is pledging at least 20 percent of any net ticket proceeds to causes that promote racial equity and to COVID relief and recovery efforts. When capacity restrictions are completely lifted, the Queens Night Market will be free and open to the public again.

John Wang, founder of Queens Night Market, said while they’re very mindful of the gravity and tragedy of what they’re coming out of a city, state and nation, they hope the Queens Night Market can represent a celebratory beacon of solidarity and just a huge, collective sigh of relief. 

“We’re unbelievably excited to welcome everyone back and hope our visitors don’t mind underwriting vendor fees until attendance restrictions are lifted — we just don’t want to hang our vendors out dry financially after the tough year they’ve had,” Wang said.

Over its first five seasons, the Queens Night Market welcomed well over 1 million visitors, helped launch over 300 brand-new businesses in New York, and represented over 90 countries through its vendors and their food. In its last operating season in 2019, the event averaged nearly 15,000 attendees each Saturday night.

While some aspects of the event will likely change to accommodate new safety measures and protocols, the $5 price cap on food (with some limited $6 exceptions) will remain in place. 

According to Wang, they are remaining steadfast in their mission to be NYC’s most affordable, diverse and welcoming community event.

“Given the economic fallout from the pandemic and the sociopolitical climate we find ourselves in as a nation, our social aspirations might actually be more timely and relevant than ever,” Wang said.  

The Queens Night Market will open an hour earlier, operating from 4 p.m. to midnight, giving vendors an extra hour to make sales. As of now, visitors will be required to wear masks except when seated, eating and drinking, which is limited to the sprawling lawned picnic area. The picnic area has plenty of space to spread out and accommodate all attendees while still socially distanced.

Signed copies of the official Queens Night Market cookbook will be available for sale at the event. The World Eats Here was co-authored by John Wang and Storm Garner, a filmmaker and oral historian who married Wang in March 2019. It showcases 88 vibrant and diverse recipes directly from the event’s vendor-chefs, representing cuisines from over 40 countries. The book was published at the beginning of the pandemic in May 2020, meant to coincide with the then-canceled opening of the 2020 season.

Although the event has received over 300 applications for this year, vendor recruitment continues to be challenging compared to previous years.

The Queens Night Market counts approximately 2,000 local aspiring entrepreneurs in its vendor network, but last year was devastating for many of those businesses and projects.

“We estimate that around 75 percent of the vendors in our network have quit the business for good, given up on their entrepreneurial vision, or hit the pause button indefinitely,” Wang said. “We hope to see a major bounce back in entrepreneurship as the economy recovers and hope we can continue to play a small part in lowering the barriers to entry for small businesses.”

In 2019, food vendors averaged nearly $2,000 per night in sales. Despite the conservative outlook on entrepreneurship, the 2021 season is already expected to include Afghan mantu and chapli kababs; Indonesian kue pancong and ote ote; Portuguese pastéis de nata; Filipino balut, dinuguan and lugaw; Romanian chimney cakes; Indian tandoori kebabs; Vietnamese fermented grilled pork; and many more to come. 

The event also hosts plenty of art/merchandise vendors, and the season will include vintage apparel, hand-poured candles, travel photography, crochet toys, stationery, small batch soap, henna, vintage brooches and ads, international handcrafts, NYC-themed apparel, gourmet dog treats, handmade jewelry, ceramics and local art.

The event anticipates starting off with fewer vendors both to ensure social distancing while queueing and to mitigate the impact of attendance restrictions on vendor sales. Additionally, the Queens Night Market will continue to showcase several live performances every Saturday night. To date, the event has featured nearly 300 musicians, bands and performance groups – including African dance troupes, capoeira, karate demonstrations, Brazilian drum lines, jazz bands, salsa bands and much more.

For more information, visit queensnightmarket.com.