Atlantic Antic returns to a rejuvenated Brooklyn

atlantic antic
Revelers at Atlantic Antic, Sunday, Oct. 3.
Photo by Susan De Vries

Atlantic Antic, Brooklyn’s oldest street festival, returned for its 46th iteration Sunday, and revelers were thrilled to be back on the namesake avenue after the coronavirus pandemic led to the event’s cancellation last year.

The festival took over Atlantic Avenue from Hicks Street, near the East River waterfront, to Fourth Avenue near the Barclays Center, with great merriment as throngs of food vendors, knick-knack purveyors, and performers lined the thoroughfare. Attendees went to the circus, rode a pony, ate all sorts of grub, and watched belly dancers, drum lines, marching bands, and dance troupes perform.

Photo by Noah Bealand

Things were a bit different this year, though, in light of the changes in the world since the last festival.

“By thinking that we wouldn’t have a full capacity because of circumstance, it gave us an opportunity to reexamine how we were doing things,” said Howard Kolins, acting executive director of the Atlantic Ave Local Development Corporation, which organizes and puts on the annual soiree, by phone on Monday. “We started off trying to socially distance the booths, so most of them were ten feet apart wherever possible. And we were trying to fill space but not completely fill the space. It gave us the opportunity to have some more entertainment on the street.”

Photo by Noah Bealand

Kolins said that many vendors were unable to participate this year after the shellacking small businesses have taken during the pandemic, but estimated that about 250 vendors were on the avenue, with approximately 70 percent returning from previous years, plus about 50 participating local businesses with permanent operations on Atlantic.

His initial estimate for Atlantic Antic’s attendance this year, over six hours on Sunday, was about 400,000 people or so, fewer than the 800,000 the festival might see in a good year, but still the size of a city in its own right and a strong showing in the middle of a pandemic.

Photo by Noah Bealand

“It was so much the same, except you could feel that people wanted to have a good time, and they wanted to be out on the street,” Kolins said. “The weather was perfect, there was a very strong feeling of ‘oh my god, this is back! This is great!'”

“We worked very hard to fill it up, and then I could feel the crowd going, ‘oh, this is like it used to be, this is like two years ago,'” he continued. “They shopped, they ate, they drank, they strolled, they greeted friends. That’s a little different than any other year, and certainly two years ago, because nobody takes anything for granted anymore.”

Kids Rock for Kids perform at Atlantic AnticPhoto by Noah Bealand

Because many normally participating vendors did not set up shop this year, vendor applications stayed open until about a week ago, Kolins said.

Many schools, nonprofits, and local politicians also set up shop at the fair. Sen. Chuck Schumer absconded from tense budget and infrastructure negotiations in Washington to gallivant at the fair, and Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa hung out with volunteers for his Democratic opponent, Borough President Eric Adams.

Sen. Chuck Schumer takes a selfie with a festival-goer.Photo by Noah Bealand

With health and safety on everyone’s mind, Atlantic Antic organizers encouraged everyone to mask up, maintain social distance, and use ample hand sanitizer. Revelers could also get a COVID vaccine or test onsite at the fair.

Kolins said that in contrast to past years, the festival actually made some money this year instead of operating at a loss for the AALDC, which has hosted the shindig, its only annual fundraiser, since 1974. That’s perhaps because of people’s yearning for the return of street life: AALDC sold out of the T-shirts it had made, for instance.

“We had a very good event, a lot of visibility and a lot of eyeballs on the street. We want to build on that and diversify.”