John Wang is having the worst summer of his life.
As the founder of Queens Night Market, he’s spent nearly two years getting the kind of real-world experience that business school didn’t prepare him for. Over 12 (nonconsecutive) Saturdays since the market’s launch on April 25, Wang’s dream of an Asian outdoor fair in New York City sometimes leapt, other times lurched ahead.
But the rough start hasn’t cooled his enthusiasm for the project.
“People stuck with us and I definitely got better at my job, having never done it before — no room to go but up,” says the 33-year-old former lawyer with a self-deprecating chuckle. “We cleaned a lot of things up and got a little bit more organized.”
But because this is NYC, that’s exactly when it came time for a big change. Wang is moving the night market from its original home in Flushing to Jamaica, reopening this Saturday.
In a way, it’s exorcizing some old demons. The old location, in the parking lot of the New York Hall of Science, nearly doomed it, with attendance “10 or 20 times more than I ever imagined it would be” and complaints crowding Wang’s Yelp and Facebook accounts about parking and traffic jams.
The new location not only has double the space to spread out but will have a lot across the street with $3 parking for visitors. Much of this is thanks to Wang’s new allies at the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, who are providing the new home as well as logistics and promotion for the market.
“They have been incredibly supportive since over a year ago. It’s definitely no triviality that they’re donating the space because that’s always been our biggest cost,” says Wang. (He was paying $10,000 a night to run the market in Flushing.)
Amid all the changes, there will be some things staying the same. Over half of the 80 or so existing vendors have signed on to continue with the market, though Wang wishes it were more. The new location is less convenient by mass transit and gets less foot traffic, which makes it a different pitch to would-be vendors.
“A lot of it goes back to what we’re trying to change — not everyone has a great, rosy perception of Jamaica,” he says. “I’m hoping the end result of the Night Market is the same, but the truth is this neighborhood is very different.”
He’s also trying to recruit more artists, something he didn’t expect would be difficult. “I always thought that out of the 150-160 vendors mapped out in our filings, 90 or 100 of them would be art tents. I always thought there’s so many artists in New York City, getting a huge wave of artists to come through was easy — I was dead wrong. Food vendors always outnumber art vendors by two to one.
“Since I realized that in the first two weeks, I’ve been campaigning really hard, but it’s still something we’ve been working on. I don’t want to be branded just a food event.”
A pleasant surprise among all the stress was the realization of Wang’s goal with the market. Back in April, he told Metro that he hoped to draw all demographics of New Yorkers to discover something they’d never seen or tasted before at the market. Attendance was in the several thousands every week, but families and community groups began a sort of friendly colonization, bringing strollers and spending their whole evening there.
“The tone of the event became much more community-oriented, a real gathering space. People started slowly bringing more picnic blankets and chilling out for hours and hours,” he says.
Between constantly recruiting new vendors, sponsors, volunteers and performers, Wang doesn’t count on having a free second to reflect on everything that’s happened until November (the last day of the market will be Halloween if the weather holds). But he hopes that just as Flushing served to bring many different communities together, Jamaica’s Queens Night Market will take on its own sense of purpose.
“It’s a real opportunity to create something different in the community, change the fabric of the community, hopefully,” he says. “I know that sounds like such an idealistic thing, but in the beginning I never imagined I would get the personal satisfaction of watching it become more diverse and evolve. And that goes beyond just creating a local market.”
Queens Night Market
90-02 168th St., Jamaica