By Dean Stattmann
New York is an expensive city. And that’s if you have a job. So for the hordes of unemployed college students that roam the streets of this metropolitan labyrinth each day, bargains of any shape and size rarely go unnoticed. And when New York University hosted its bi-annual Vendor Fair last Thursday, the masses were out, and they were hungry.
The fair, arranged by NYUCard Services Campus Cash and Ticket Central, invites vendors from all over the city to the lofty Rosenthal Pavilion on the 10th floor of NYU’s Kimmel Center to promote their businesses and encourage students to take part in the Campus Cash program. Campus Cash allows students to effectively turn their NYU ID cards into debit cards that can be used at participating vendors throughout the city. The vendors in turn pay NYU to be a part of the program.
This semester, students were presented with the full spectrum – from the Museum of Jewish Heritage to the Blue Man Group – but beyond the 30-second elevator pitches and foldable chairs lies the key to what has students lining up for this event time after time: The free food.
“It’s like a pillow of ice cream,” exclaims one man with a mouth full of Australian Homemade ice cream. He is Kyle Graham, an NYU Steinhardt graduate currently working in the CAS admissions office. He is at the front of a line that stretches halfway across the room’s width. Australian Homemade, sharing a table with Pizza Mercato, is handing out free ice cream. Pizza Mercato isn’t. No one even notices them.
“People never say no to free stuff,” says Australian’s manager, Jonathan, who declined to give his last name. “Especially when it’s good stuff.” Everything is a sales pitch here.
Along the south side of the room is where the real crowds are. Mao Noodles, owned by Chris Johnson and Chris Andrews, is giving away free shrimp and papaya salads, while Peanut Butter and Co. is doling out jars of peanut butter and pretzels by the double digits. “People are usually hungry around noon,” says Johnson with a subtle grin creeping across his face.
Less than an hour in, the room is booming. Students, hopping from vendor to vendor, fill up complimentary promotional bags from the various tables until the their knuckles are white and can tolerate no more weight. A man carrying seven pizzas enters the room and heads straight for the Pizza Mercato table. He goes unnoticed for about three seconds. Passing a heap of glistening red apples, piled up at a table whose name no one will ever remember, he sets the pizzas down on Mercato’s table. He turns around to a newly formed line of ruthless bargain hunters, this time extending beyond the room’s width, out the exit and into the foyer. The words “Pizza Mercato,” can be heard echoing down the line like a game of broken telephone.
Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch!
Photo by Dean Stattmann