SantaCon is an all-day bar crawl in which customers flood the city dressed in Santa, elf, and reindeer costumes. New York City holds an annual event as well, often the weekend before Hoboken’s. However, Manhattan’s land area is 23 square miles, and Hoboken’s is one.
According to Chief of Police Ken Ferrante, this year’s bar crawl drew an estimated 5,000 or 6,000 participants to the city’s southeast corner, which holds the train station and many bars.
He said this year’s “con” was one of the worst he has seen, as there were 289 calls for service from 12 p.m. to 4 a.m. Saturday to Sunday, 83 summonses issued, 17 people arrested (all from out of town), 55 people transported to the hospital, and one report of criminal sexual contact (someone grabbing a woman’s breast over the clothing).
Residents have posted an online petition urging participating bars and promoters to no longer promote or participate in the event. As of Thursday it had over 800 signatures.
Mayor-Elect Ravi Bhalla backed the online petition on Twitter in a post on Sunday, asking bars and restaurants to stop participating in the event, which he said was “not acceptable in Hoboken.”
“By stopping the promotion of SantaCon, petitioning bars to stop participating in the unsanctioned, non-city sponsored event, and seeking to stop the event from having a home here, we can have our city back and keep SantaCon to NYC, which is much more prepared to handle the crowds and nature of the event,” the petition reads.
It is not easy for the city to ban the event, because it involves people going to different bars during regular hours, rather than being hosted at some public place that might require a permit.
That doesn’t mean the mayor-elect won’t try.
“We are reviewing that topic actively with the law department and police chief,” said Mayor-Elect Ravi Bhalla in an interview. “This event is a public safety concern, a quality of life issue, and it’s a public nuisance. What we have here is Hoboken taxpayers subsidizing corporate profits for a few bar owners and it’s unacceptable.”
Some of the bar crawl’s websites bill it as a charity event, stating that a portion of the proceeds will go to Kidz1st Inc.
According to Ferrante, the cost of the extra officers and overtime used during SantaCon is just over $36,000.
What about St. Patrick’s Day?
The next such “con” will likely fall on the first Saturday in March, when bars traditionally engage in a LepreCon crawl, in advance of bigger cities’ celebrations. Some events also are held around St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
The Saturday event came into being because Hoboken traditionally hosted its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on that day. More and more people began coming in from out of town and using the bars, and others threw house parties. The partying became out of control, so in 2012, Mayor Dawn Zimmer asked the St. Patrick’s Parade Committee (an independent group not connected to the city administration) to have the event on a weeknight. They balked for a number of reasons, and discontinued the traditional parade.
Bhalla said that if the city addresses bar crawls, that may put a damper on the ones in March.
Does that mean the parade could return?
Bhalla is unsure.
“The parade is a bit more complex,” he said. “The challenges of St. Patrick’s Day were not limited to bar owners. They were also arguably more associated with the house parties that used to occur on St. Patrick’s Day or the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade. While it’s certainly a possibility we can reinstitute the parade if we find the means to tamper down the illegal conduct being facilitated by a few bad apples in the bar industry, I am not sure that would be a holistic solution [as it doesn’t address the private house parties.]”
Bhalla said that Hoboken is a growing family-friendly community that has no place for SantaCon behavior, such as fights and public urination that leave the town “trashed.”
Topic of discussion
Residents spoke out against SantaCon at the Hoboken City Council meeting last week.
Mary Ondrejka said she was trying to do some Christmas shopping at local businesses on Saturday, but it was nearly impossible with the crowding.
Elizabeth Adams said, “SantaCon needs to be shut down, as do all the other events.”
The petition can be viewed online at https://tinyurl.com/yangkekx
Marilyn Baer can be reached at email@example.com.