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Neighborhood Event Permits: Conquer the Bureaucracy!

May 3, 2016 • 7 mins read

Ahmad El-Najjar

Policy and Communications

Neighborhood events and street fairs have always been a great way to attract people to specific communities while promoting and highlighting the residents and businesses of those communities. Whether it’s a weekly farmer’s market, an art walk, a film festival, or a block party, these events bring in people who can turn into customers. Now that spring is in the air and summer’s around the corner, what better way to herald the new season than with new customers? And, what better way to get those customers in your door than by first getting them to your neighborhood and then your street with a fun community event? First, you’ll need a few neighborhood event permits.

Show Me the Money

It’s hard to find much data about the economic impact of street fairs, particularly smaller ones and ones that don’t happen regularly. Part of the trouble is that results can vary widely across industries, with bars and restaurants tending to benefit more than other businesses during street festivals. A recent study of Oakland First Fridays, a monthly street fair in Oakland, California, found that businesses are “consistently generating higher revenue on event Friday nights versus non-event Friday nights” with owners reporting increases of as much as 100 to 250 percent (!). And while bars and restaurants “overall do better” than other businesses on those Fridays, the study also found that “business owners who find creative ways to market products or services to event attendees often generate more revenue on event nights” than owners who don’t make that effort. Some of these tactics have included “display tables in the event [area] enticing attendees to stop by their business location, setting up large sampling spaces in front of buildings, and selling alternative menu items.” Retail merchants may need to make similar efforts to see neighborhood events pay the dividends they should.

Oakland First Fridays

But there are, of course, factors beyond the numbers that make planning a neighborhood event worth the time and effort. Planning events like these helps local businesses get to know each other better, and may inspire co-marketing partnerships, without the time spent being a drain on the business. Neighborhood events are basically a one-stop shop for community. They offer local businesses a chance to engage not only with each other, but also with their current and prospective customers, and other residents of the community they do business in.

And, of course, small fairs and festivals encourage a ton of mostly new, local foot traffic. So, these events are an opportunity to highlight your business through sponsorship, special event discounts, and awareness.

Make a Plan to Make It Happen

Unfortunately, a successful neighborhood fair doesn’t just happen overnight. They’re always the result of a lot of planning and navigating bureaucracy (surprise!), including getting the requisite neighborhood event permits.

Because neighborhood events can be so good for business, we’ve created a quick guide to make it easier and faster for small businesses to get those neighborhood event permits and organize a successful event.

Planning your event

A necessary first step is to decide what kind of event you want to have. If it’s a street fair, then you’ll want to get the buy-in of everyone on the street. If it’s an art walk, maybe reach out specifically to the businesses like bars, restaurants, galleries, and boutiques you know would be interested in hosting art and getting that foot traffic. If it’s a themed event and more about the whole neighborhood, see if you can connect with a local neighborhood organization to help with planning and getting volunteers. Main Street America, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, offers a very useful set of questions that will help you create a solid plan for a successful neighborhood event.

  • Goals: What realistic goals are expected?
  • Partners: Who is involved? Who manages information, activities, operations?
  • Benefit: What for?
  • Audience: Who comes, attends, or is the target market?
  • Activities: What happens?
  • Funding: Who pays? How much will it cost?
  • Setting: When is the best time and date? Where will it take place?
  • Theme: What’s new?
  • Name: What is it called?
  • Mission: Why is it worth the effort?

Next: talk to your neighbors!

This is a must for any successful event. You’ll need to gauge your community’s level of interest and willingness to participate. An event has a lot of moving parts, and you will need help. If you’ve worked out good answers to the questions above, you’ll have a much easier time talking folks into participating. Thankfully, getting people interested and involved is a breeze for Townsquared members. Start a conversation by posting your idea to your Townsquared community about the event you have in mind, the support you think you’ll need, and of course, ask for advice and feedback.

While the planning just takes a little gumption, many potential organizers of neighborhood events get hung up in the bureaucratic process of obtaining neighborhood event permits. No one enjoys red tape, but the permitting process ensures your safety and that of folks attending your event. There are links to Townsquared city-specific resources provided by local government agencies below.

Street Closures

Closing off a street might seem like nothing more than a matter of putting up safety cones and barriers on either end, but the City (every city) needs to be aware of any closures, so they can alert emergency service providers and vehicles. Seconds matter when it comes to emergencies and the City needs to know in advance if there’s an event that might slow down response times. It’s likely that the Department of Transportation in your City oversees the permitting process for street closures. Depending on the size of the closure, these kind of neighborhood event permits might need to be planned over six months in advance.


A lot of events benefit from having some tunes to create the right vibe, but it’s essential that the sound remains at a level that’s considered safe for human ears. It’s also important that music isn’t being played loudly outside reasonable hours, because you don’t want angry neighbors raining on your perhaps literal parade. Blasting the Chariots of Fire theme before a 5 AM marathon on a Sunday morning might sound cool to the runners but probably not so much to the person who only got home at three hours earlier, after a long restaurant shift. Community is all about respect, and loud, continuous sound is a good way to lose that respect. For this reason, and for health reasons, most neighborhood event permits related to sound go through your local Department of Health.

Food and Alcoholfood and alcohol permits

What’s a party with food and drinks? Sparsely attended, that’s what. For this reason, most neighborhood events will want to have food and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) available or for sale on the street to attendees. Food safety and alcohol regulation laws, which are there to ensure everyone’s safety, will mean that whatever food and drinks you provide will require a permit. Such permits likely fall under the jurisdiction of the City’s Department of Health for food and the State’s liquor authority and the City’s Police Department for alcoholic beverages.

Still feeling dauntless? Congratulations, your antipathy for bureaucracy has been overcome by your love of community! And don’t forget, Townsquared members have a local community at their fingertips, so start the conversation there to find like-minded business owners.

Being part of a community takes some initiative and some work. But, once you make the effort to get connected, the trust you create can pay back huge dividends for your business.

Got tips on successfully planning a neighborhood event? Share them with your Townsquared community!

Neighborhood Event Permits Information by City 


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