Christmas caper: DA investigating organizers of Winterfest market at Bklyn Museum after vendor filed complaint

Blunder land: The district attorney’s office is reviewing complaints that vaunted holiday market Winterfest ripped off vendors.
Photo by Colin Mixson

Prosecutors are investigating the organizers of a much-hyped holiday market at the Brooklyn Museum, after a vendor who signed up to hawk her wares there claimed the Christmas-themed bazaar was a Yuletide scam that ended up costing her big time.

“We’re reviewing the complaint,” said Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

Canvas-bag maker Pamela Barsky paid more than $6,000 for the privilege to sell her totes from one of Winterfest’s stalls fashioned after quaint log cabins, which she claimed constantly leaked and lost electricity, deterring would-be customers from dropping any dough — a shortfall the market’s bigwigs blamed on its sellers, according to Barsky, who accused the organizers of brazen deception.

“This wasn’t just disorganized, I think they had every intention of scamming everyone,” said the vendor, who sells her bags at similar bazaars across the city. “It was like kindergartners trying to setup a show.”

And sellers weren’t the only ones who blasted Winterfest for over-promising and under-delivering on holiday cheer — Brooklyn Museum brass demanded the market’s attractions be offered free of charge just one day after its Nov. 23 opening, claiming organizers failed to abide by the agreement that entitled them to set up shop in the museum’s parking lot, a spokeswoman for the institution said.

“We are extremely disappointed that the organizers failed to live up to their promises and we have conveyed our concerns to them,” said Anna Cieslik, speaking on behalf of museum staff. “We have demanded that they make immediate changes to the overall look and feel of the event, and we have demanded that they stop selling tickets and make all attractions free of charge.”

Earlier this year, Winterfest organizers promised locals it would boast such whimsical attractions as a Christmas tree maze and a “Snowzilla” slide in announcing the market.

But customers who purchased tickets to the bazaar before museum staff demanded it be free to enter said organizers never bothered to install the slide, and that the so-called maze was merely just a bunch of trees haphazardly placed on the pavement.

What they promised: Renderings of Winterfest sent ahead of the market's opening showed dozens of shoppers merrily perusing its festively decorated stalls.
Winterfest

“For $18 you too can walk among a street of trees!” Downtowner Michael Trillsteen told this newspaper when it paid a visit to Winterfest on Nov. 30. “I’m just a tad disappointed.”

Renderings of the market distributed before it opened showed its grounds bustling with happy shoppers — but the promised winter wonderland actually looked more like a ghost town, according to another disappointed patron.

“It looks like it’s half-closed,” said David Rose, who also stopped by on Nov. 30 while in town from faraway California.

A Winterfest spokeswoman admitted organizers received “a few complaints,” but claimed that some gripes came from seedy patrons who only wanted to get the free wine and hot chocolate included with the price of a ticket.

“What we found is that a small number of visitors use the attraction to get free wine and free hot chocolate, then they write to us asking for refund,” said Jennifer Crosby. “We are addressing refunds on a case-by-case basis.”

Crosby also insisted organizers made the market and its attractions free to provide vendors with ample foot traffic — not in response to complaints, or pressure from the Brooklyn Museum — and said the new no-cost admission policy will make the experience more magical than ever until it closes on Dec. 31.

“We look forward to the continuation of the event for the enjoyment of all,” she said.

Should the district attorney pursue charges such as a potential larceny indictment against Winterfest bigwigs, the burden of proof would be high, and require that prosecutors provide evidence showing organizers knowingly made false promises to vendors, according to a law-enforcement source, who said defense lawyers could more easily argue that mitigating circumstances, including late deliveries and even negligence, were the cause of any shortfalls.

Photo by Colin Mixson

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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