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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.
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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.

“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.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 2:02 pm, December 7, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mathematician from Brooklyn says:
$6,000 rent seem outrageous to begin with.
Dec. 7, 8:25 am
Mathematician from Brooklyn says:
*seems
Dec. 7, 8:25 am
Cheryl Boiko from Carroll Gardens says:
I am a vendor at the event and while it has been frustrating and we feel let down, those of us who didn't drop out of the market still hope to make it a success! There are some great local vendors, some tasty food, a wine tent - COME ON OUT AND SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESS, in spite of the organizers fail!
Dec. 7, 9:23 am
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
Winterfest is a bust due to inexperience organizer. It originally said it will be opened 7 days a week, then 6 days, now only 4 days, most likely lack of operation funding for basic staffing (including Santa). It's a shame and should be closed down.
Dec. 7, 9:36 am
Andreena Knupfert Humplington from Washington Heights says:
Of course they are against a powerful WOMAN just trying to be herself! Oh, how strange !!!!! This is some funky bullsnip- people!!!!!! If you aren’t angry, what are you doing?
Dec. 7, 9:46 am
Annmaria Mazzini from Riverdale says:
There are still many fantastic vendors at Winterfest with lots to offer holiday shoppers: really good food, lots of fun and live music in the wine tent, and so many unique and wonderful gifts throughout the market, many made by local artists - like me! The season is just beginning Brooklyn, don’t give up on your local small businesses!
Dec. 7, 11:28 am
Live Poultry Designs from Red Hook says:
I am a vendor at this market and although it's been troubled due to the reasons outlined in the article, we ask all Brooklynites to come out and shop here. We are honest businesses and need the support of our great borough as we had nothing to do with the organization of this market. An update: all the previously paid attractions are now free. Happy Holidays Pete
Dec. 7, 1:52 pm
Sara from Boston says:
It's not inexperience. The organizers are experienced scam artists. They pulled the same thing in Boston last year under a different business name. Left a trail of angry and ripped off small business owners. Don't trust a word Lena says. The stories they're spinning about other vendors being responsible for their failures are the same ones they told last year.
Dec. 7, 5:33 pm
Old time Brooklyn from Slope says:
Why would you pay to shopping?
Dec. 9, 11:04 am
Sean Michael Waters from Carroll gardens says:
I was hired as a designer for the winterfest event along with several others. Both Lena and Johan are professional scam artists that screwed everyone of the people hired out of money. Too bad for them though cause we all got together and weng to the beookln district attorney. And what somebody told me they will never do business in New York again
Dec. 12, 8:07 pm

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