When Too Much Success Is a Bad Thing – Review of the Pasadena 626 Asian Night Market
The only word to describe the inaugural 626 Asian Night Market in Pasadena is “insane”. The organizers did such an incredible job of marketing the event that they had ten times the turnout expected. As a result, the city of Pasadena experienced an “Asian invasion” as described on Twitter by irritated and surprised residents.
What the event clearly showed is the hunger by the Asian community for a multi-cultural, Asian inspired event. Thousands of people suffered through an 8 mile traffic jam, hours of looking for parking, unbearable crowds and dangerous conditions. People came from throughout Southern California and some, like us, drove more than 50 miles to attend. We ended up being over two hours late because of traffic and missed connecting with our group.
The smart people took one look and left. Our Orange County group did not even try to enter the fair area and drove 15 miles away to San Gabriel to feed their Asian food cravings. With a prior commitment at the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix, we were not able to get there right at the 5PM open and could not get through on the cell phone until they were already far out of the Pasadena area. Someone told me later that the cell phone towers crashed from the sheer demand of all the attendees.
I had promised Jonny Hwang, one of the event’s organizers, that I would attend and write about the event so we did not have the option of leaving. We knew things were bad within four blocks of the market because there was a large stream of unhappy people heading in the opposite direction. All the local food stores along the way were also stuffed with customers.
Once you actually get to the Night Market itself, you have to force yourself into a suffocating sea of people. It was impossible to see anything especially if you’re short and not on 4 inch heels. The booths were placed on both sides of the street tightly side by side which would have been perfect if only a couple of hundred of people showed up. We barely made it past 50 feet and got pushed into the side parking lot where apparently the only food stalls were located.
The press of the crowd forced us accidentally into the front of a food stall which ran out of food right at that moment. It was only 7:30PM. We then managed to shift to the right and order food from the adjoining stall, but it took us half an hour to move ten feet. We were luckier than most because people were waiting for an hour or more to order anything. There was no orderly line but just a giant shuffle.
It took over two hours before we got our order filled. In the meantime, I got more body contact with total strangers than I ever wanted to experience again. Imagine being pressed skin to skin on every side by people. If you had claustrophobia, this was not the place to be. Personal space issue? You’re out of luck because there’s not even an inch between you and strangers.
At times, I was standing on air because the press of bodies lifted me off my feet and suspended me in the air for several minutes. I was wearing a skirt and found out later that my leg was sliced by contact with something sharp in that crowd.
Several other women and I almost passed out from smoke inhalation. I’m not joking here. We were stuck near the front of our food stall after ordering and we couldn’t get out. The grill was ten feet away and at times, a thick cloud of smoke smothered the front area. I was wearing a cowl neck and used my sweater as a face mask to breathe but the smoke lasted so long during some parts that we ran out of oxygen. I lost my voice because my throat was scoured raw and am still recovering from the smoke inhalation the next day.
I tried to escape, but without cell phone service, my husband and I would never find each other again. We stupidly suffered much longer than we should have, thinking that we would get our food soon. To alleviate the misery, people in the crowd talked to each other and shared their feedback of the event. Pretty much everyone was unhappy and planned never to come back again.
Two hours after paying, we finally got our food. It still took fifteen minutes to slowly shift our way to the latrine area to eat our cold and congealed food. It was the only open area that we could access. After being forced to stand in one place for so long, my feet hurt and I could not bring myself to fight back into the crowd to meet the organizer as had been arranged.
The organizers were extremely lucky that there were no incidents or accidents (that I know of). People suffered silently through some horrific circumstances. The crowd was polite and there was no drunken or belligerent behavior that I was aware of. Amazingly, I did not see a single police officer during the entire night
Someone mentioned to me that Jonny was planning on holding this event monthly. This should be done only if significant changes were made.
The organizers need time to fix all the issues that existed and to repair the public relations damage that came from the poor execution from all sides. It will take a lot of effort to change the minds of those who attended and bring them back next year. We will share some ideas and resources to help with the next time.
Against huge odds, Jonny Hwang and the volunteers did an incredible job of creating reality out of a dream. Putting an event on at this level is extremely difficult with a huge amount of logistics involved.
They had no previous experience and no money. Their Kickstarter solicitation only generated a few hundred dollars instead of the $10,000 that they needed. The city of Pasadena gave them spiritual support but not much else. Few business owners were willing to take the risk in getting involved. It was mostly neophyte entrepreneurs who took the leap.
Despite all this, they did an incredible job in using the internet and social media to bring in thousands of people to a brand new, completely unknown event. Jonny will be sharing their amazing marketing strategy and the story behind the event in a future article with Money and Risk.
Give the 626 Asian Night Market a second chance. With some tweaks, it will truly be a showcase of Asian culture and create a bridge between communities.
There are lots of business lessons that can be derived from this event.
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