By Caitlin Hawke
This past Sunday, the New York Times ran a colorful web feature on the tradition of the New York City block party. Digging into the archives, the paper cited an article from 1923 that dated the custom of festive neighborhood stoop-sitting well back into the 1860s.
On the Upper West Side, there are a handful of authentic, put-on-by-neighbors block parties that persevere. These are the kinds with bake sales, used books, bargain tables, and live local music. That tradition is especially robust in the Bloomingdale neighborhood north of W. 96th Street where there is a block party every spring thanks to the W. 102nd & 103rd Streets Block Association, followed by one in the fall produced by the W. 104th Street Block Association. The latter will be held this Saturday, September 21, all day along the block between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.
In fact, this fall marks the 30th consecutive Yard Sale held by the W. 104th Street Block Association, but parties and similar indoor sales have been held dating all the way back to the block association’s inception in 1970. The first sale was orchestrated by the association’s founding president Carol Goodfriend, and held in 1971 at holiday time in the basement of 320 Riverside Drive. A contemporaneous block association newsletter heralded that holiday fair as an “undreamed-of smash” that raised $1700 from 50¢ portions of kugel, cups of lemonade and used white elephant treasures. Goodfriend was referred to as the “whirling dervish of 104th Street” and the 1971 newsletter coverage took pride in the initial success of community-building effort that turned a profit which could in turn be invested to improve poor street lighting.
By 1989, the volunteers took the leap to take over the street and created the outdoor sale, heaping on layers of bureaucracy to their charitable undertaking. In spite of all the pencil-pushers’ requirements, 30 years later, the 104th Street event is unfazed and going strong. The yard sale is their signature event, and no one seems the least bit confused by the word “yard” — a euphemism for the New York City street, which, at least for one day is car free.
For weeks leading up to the sale, a large crew of dedicated volunteers staff outreach tables, promote the upcoming sale, and collect funds for the split-pot raffle. Sixty-two vendor slots are rented to neighbors, who “Marie Kondo” their homes, display their no longer-needed treasures at their yard-sale stalls, and welcome bids and neighborly conversation before the handshakes that seal a deal. Complementing the vendor stalls, the Block Association sponsors a bake sale, a bargain sale, a book sale offering hundreds of used books for $1.00 each, and a silent auction featuring gift certificates to 59 local restaurants, bars, stores, and institutions.
To create a festive ambiance and draw the curious from blocks away, the block association hires musicians and loads in a stage and sound system. This leads to spontaneous dancing in the street. It also increases activity at the vendor stalls. And the whole effort results in revenue that keeps the neighborhood safe and well-maintained.
The annual W. 104th Street Yard Sale takes place this Saturday, September 21, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the block between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue. For more information, visit https://www.bloomingdale.org.