Norwegian Americans are hitching their parade float to Third Avenue’s success — and are breaking with nearly 40 years of tradition of marching along Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge.
The Norwegian-American 17th of May Committee of Greater New York, which holds the Norwegian Constitution Day Parade each year to celebrate the nation’s freedom from Sweden, says last year’s turnout on Fifth Avenue was so disappointing that it decided to move to more popular pastures.
“We didn’t get enough people,” says Kenneth Johnson, a committee co-chairman and lodge president of the local chapter of the Sons of Norway.
Some Fifth Avenue leaders understood the move because the Scandinavian population in Brooklyn has steadily dwindled for decades, and attendance of the parade — which will be held on May 20 to mark its 60th anniversary — has shrunk along with it, they noted.
“They wanted a change of pace in an attempt to revitalize the parade,” said Jim Clark, president of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District. “Obviously there aren’t many Norwegian or Swedish people left in Bay Ridge anymore.”
But other Fifth Avenue diehards worried for their peers along the rival strip.
“I’m sure a lot of them are upset that they’re losing it — I would be,” said Chip Cafiero, a board member of Third Avenue Merchants. “But Third Avenue is hot right now.”
Fifth Avenue has been hit with a spreading plague of empty storefronts that has claimed some 30 local businesses in recent years, and the committee cited financial logistics for its change of pace because it allowed Third Avenue businesses to make donations and take out advertisements.
“We thought the Third Avenue board merchants would be more responsive toward our move,” noted Johnson.
The move wasn’t about instigating a battle of the boulevards, insisted Committee Chairwoman Arlene Rutuelo, who owns Nordic Delicacies on Third Avenue, the last such business in the area, but said that didn’t influence her committee’s decision to reroute the merry march.
“We’re trying to build Bay Ridge as a whole,” she said. “Fifth Avenue [Business Improvement District] has been a great sponsor, and they’re continuing to sponsor our parade.”
Rutuelo pointed out that this was the third time the celebration was relocated to follow the money trail: The cavalcade originally went down Sunset Park’s Eighth Avenue, once named “Lapskaus Boulevard” after a North European stew, but now home to mostly Asian Americans. In the 1970s, it followed the Scandinavian population to Fifth Avenue.
“Every time it’s moved, it’s been for financial reasons,” Rutuelo said. “It’s about finding the best route for the parade.”