Step right up, step right up. Make a donation today to beautify your beautiful city. Your city street. The street where you stay and play all day and night. Where you take your paycheck and throw it away on alcohol, cover charges and go go boys. And while you’re at it, since you seem all-too eager to give us your money, how about you pay a $50 fee to see some live entertainment. We’ll throw in a couple of beers to make the medicine go down.
For those not in the know, let’s establish some context. This past weekend was Market Days, gay Chicago’s annual street festival. The thing is huge. It spans the greater part of North Halsted, stretching from Belmont to Addison. Gays and gawkers from around the world converge on this little party to eat of funnel cake, drink of watery sangria and watch porn stars play Twister with one another. They also come for the live entertainment. A number of stages are erected along the festival path, featuring a wide array of has-beens and never-weres. I’m not trying to be cheeky by saying that. It is the truth. And I love it. I love watching a washed-up act, say the Village People, parade around in a 7-11 parking lot. It’s surrealism at its finest.
In years past, as is the spirit of the Chicago street fest, all live entertainment was free. All that was asked was a meager $7 donation at the entrance gate, a donation that would go to NAMA, the Northalsted Area Merchants’ Association. This association is composed of businesses around Boystown, including every bar/night club in the area. This donation would be used to fund certain things such as security for annual events (Pride, Halloween Parade, etc.). No one is forced to pay, and most people forked over the moolah out of the spirit of contributing to the community.
Flash forward to this year’s Market Days. The $7 donation still stands. No big whoop. But now there’s a main stage that features the creme-de-la-creme of “Where are they now?” acts, including En Vogue, Berlin and Jody Watley. Nothing wrong here. Great entertainment at a nice little street festival. I can’t complain. Or can I? Yes, yes I can.
This is because NAMA decided, in their infinite wisdom, that it’d be a great idea during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression to create a “VIP section” for this main stage, one where front and center tickets cost $50 a pop. A pop!
Why would they do this? Does the money go toward STI prevention? Does it go toward helping troubled, gay youth? No! It goes toward the “beautification” of the area. What the fuck does that mean? Well in all sources that I could find, NAMA executive director Jay Lyon did not really clarify what “beautification” meant. Yes, we know you have to pay for street cleanings and the like. But shouldn’t that be part of your organization’s annual budget? I find it hard to believe that you, NAMA, as a group of savvy business owner, are unable to allot annual denominations for various essentials, such as street security and street cleanings. Have your bank accounts been hit hard too by the economic crisis? Are people drinking less? Partying less? Are they less willing to part with their money because they too are feeling the pains of global financial collapse? Or are you, NAMA members, still making hand over fist while asking for more, more, more?
So here’s how things are, as I see them: NAMA members collect millions of dollars a year from the gay community, mainly from the selling of goods and services, mainly alcohol. These institutions, I would bet, make fairly high profits based on the large margins that alcohol sales reap. I mean, think about it. These bars buy booze wholesale (read: remarkably discounted from what you could buy at even Aldi) and then sell it to you at insanely marked up prices. $4 for a shit beer when you could buy a 6-pack of the stuff for $2 more. Mind you, I’m not complaining about any of this. It’s their right to charge whatever they want, and it’s our right to spend spend spend. But to believe that these companies need a few gays to shell out $50 for VIP tickets to help offset their annual expenses is just ignorant. Hell, the amount they make off of sales at Market Days alone probably covers the cost of Market Days and then some. So why oh why would they charge $50 if they don’t really need the money? I can’t answer this. I’m not sure how funds are allocated internally at NAMA. But something tells me we don’t want to know, at risk of infuriating the gay community. I would be for some community oversight of NAMA, let us, your customers, the backbones of your businesses, see into where your money goes and how you spend it. Because you, NAMA, make a shit ton. Yet you’re standing on the street with a tin can begging for change. What gives?
Here’s what you should do: Market Days should be paid out-of-pocket by the NAMA members. Entertainment, security, etc. All of it. It should be a festival that not only celebrates diversity but also celebrates the community. It should be businesses giving back, saying thank you for your patronage. I get it. En Vogue doesn’t come cheap. But then you, NAMA, should fit the bill, rewarding us…US…for your existence. Without us, you would be nothing. And you seem to have forgotten that due to your greed.
NAMA: Wise up.