Officials Wary of Proposal for Nonprofit, Community Organizations To Use ‘Pop Up Park’ for Sales

Town officials on Tuesday night voiced objections to a proposal that nonprofit and community organizations be allowed to sell fundraiser tickets or items such as Girl Scout cookies in the Pop Up Park downtown, saying the popular pedestrian area should remain entirely solicitation-free.

When the cordoned-off park launched five years ago, New Canaan’s traffic authority specified that nothing be sold there “mostly because we did not want to have in any way reactions by the merchants that the Pop Up Park would compete with them,” according to Police Commission member Sperry DeCew.

“I am not particularly happy about this [idea],” DeCew said at the group’s regular meeting, held at the New Canaan Police Department. “I do not particularly want people in there being solicited by anybody to do anything—Lobsterfest or Girl Scout cookies. I think it’s inappropriate and there should be no solicitation whatsoever.”

DeCew and fellow Commissioner Paul Foley—together with Chairman Stuart Sawabini, who participated in the meeting on speakerphone—referred to a draft set of “sales guidelines” from the volunteer committee that organizes the Pop Up Park. The guidelines were not immediately available and no one from the committee attended the meeting.

Starting in 2012 and for three years, the Pop Up Park ran for a limited number of weekends, with its organizers taking on the labor-intensive work of setting it up on a Friday evening and pulling it back down by Sunday night. The town approved an all-summer run in 2015, but the Pop Up Park didn’t run at all that year after some merchants raised concerns. It returned last summer, running for three continuous weeks last August and this year, the Pop Up Park launched July 15 at the Sidewalk Sale and will remain in place through Labor Day weekend, with various organizations, professionals and musicians offering entertainment, exercises and classes as the summer unwinds.

At the meeting, Sawabini asked how the commissioners would feel if nonprofit organizations used the space to promote events such as community fundraisers.

“I would tend to go at least that far,” the chairman said. “Not-for-profits are trying to promote community spirit and raise money for the community, not the organization’s own self-interest.”

DeCew responded that such groups already use local businesses and visible areas such as the fence outside the train station to do just that.

“I think we should keep it clean, the way it is now,” DeCew said.

Foley described the Pop Up Park as a public space that downtown visitors may use to rest or engage in a healthy activity or for organizations to showcase their work.

“And I am kind of siding with Sperry,” he said. “It just opens the door [to]: ‘If they are selling, why can’t we sell?’ ”

The commission said the feedback should be relayed to the Pop Up Park’s organizers with a goal on getting a revised final proposal prior to its September meeting.

6 thoughts on “Officials Wary of Proposal for Nonprofit, Community Organizations To Use ‘Pop Up Park’ for Sales

  1. I think it’s wise of the Commission to take a cautious attitude so as not to build opposition. Retail needs support, not competition. The park looked good when I went by yesterday afternoon, but it was lightly attended. At first I was annoyed not being able to drive down South onto Elm but is has proven to be a minor inconvenience and it has a traffic calming effect on Elm.

    • Next week there is a grammar lecture at the park. 🙂 All kidding aside. I completely agree. A park by nature should be a sanctuary, not a place to be hit up by religious zealots, magazine salesman or anyone else who wants to separate your money from your wallet. If the town allows solicitors at this “park” what stop them from expanding to the other town parks? Glad that the police
      commission does not seem in favor of expanding the usage.

  2. I’m a bit confused. This article is your “lead story” and yet immediately below it is a letter from Leo Karl III encouraging everyone to come to the Pop-Up-Park to fight substance abuse.
    How is that any different than girl scout cookies, solicitations from followers of Sun Myung Moon or the Fight ________ Cancer crowd?
    While I understand everyone has their special interests, I cannot wrap my head around how this use of the park is “more equal” than any other. Everybody should get to use the park special interest free.

    • Thank you for submitting a comment, Ted. I do not speak on behalf of the Pop Up Park Committee or Police Commission, though I imagine the difference is that in one case money is being solicited, where in the other it is not. That was the major point of the Police Commission members who addressed this question on Tuesday night.

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