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Downtown businesses are fest’s biggest fans

Event claims to draw $70 mil to community in 2004

NEW YORK — The Yaffa Tea Room on Harrison Street has put Humphrey Bogart on the wall and Sophia Loren on the menu. It’s owner Yafa Faro’s roundabout way of honoring film culture and by extension, the Tribeca Film Festival.

“The festival is the thing we wait (for) all year long,” she says. “The business we get is unbelievable.”

Faro’s bill of fare — which includes an angel hair pasta named for Loren and a Brad Pitt club sandwich — is not the only sign of the film fest’s significance for area business.

“The whole neighborhood benefits big time,” says Tasso Zapanti, head of special events at Thalassa, a Greek restaurant on Franklin Street. Most local eateries get a jump in bar business and lunch and dinner service. For larger restaurants like Zapanti’s, the real boon is hosting parties before and after screenings.

“They need us and we want them,” Zapanti says. Thalassa reeled in three parties last year and expects at least that many this year.

One business, Tribeca Trunkt Store, which offers designer accessories, is setting up shop exclusively from March to May with an eye to festival business. Founder Ayesha Ahmad, who plans to relocate to the Hamptons for the summer, says she knew the festival would draw thousands of people to the area.

“The festival gets bigger each year,” says Don Rimmer, co-owner of Gallery Viet Nam (and the Viet Cafe next door) on Greenwich Street, which hosts several festival events.

The festival claims it drew $70 million to the community in 2004, up from $48 million the previous year.

Kevin Gouchee, co-owner of Flor de Sol, a tapas restaurant on Greenwich, says the once-hopping neighborhood is still down 30% from pre-9/11 in terms of regular foot traffic.

“The best day (of the fest) is Family Day,” says Gouchee of the Saturday event, during which Greenwich is closed to vehicular traffic. “That day is phenomenal It’s nonstop from 10 a.m. to midnight.”

Even a basic grub pub like Pig ‘n’ Whistle on Greenwich Street, which doesn’t normally lure film types, reaps the benefits, says owner Bob Fitz.

At Gallery Viet Nam, Rimmer says he stopped counting visitors at 1,000 during last year’s Family Day.

Still, for retailers, foot traffic doesn’t necessarily translate into a sales spike.

“People come to browse but I think they’re really just here to catch a glimpse of movie stars,” says Ivana Callahan, a saleswoman at Sorelle Firenze, a clothing store on Reade Street. Still, the exposure can pay off — people might remember the gallery later or recommend it to a friend.

And there are other fringe benefits, Zapanti says with a laugh: “Whenever I book a private party, I get two tickets to the screening, too.”

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