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The Niagara Holiday Market continued its downward spiral last week, with attendance figures averaging less than 200 people per day on weekdays.

Even on Saturday -- the Market's only well-attended day during its first two weeks of existence -- the numbers plummeted -- although later in the day and early evening, attendance did pick up to levels similar to previous Saturdays -- although overall still far short of well-attended.

Our special correspondent, Johnny A. Helms of Niagara Falls, (as he has done since the Market opened on Nov. 25) went several times daily last week to count attendees at what is still being advertised as "the largest European-style Holiday Market in the USA."

According to Helms, it was a virtual ghost town last week.
11:30-6 people
1:00-12 people
2:30-7 people
3:45-3 people
5:30-5 people
17 vendors closed/16 open
11:30-3 people
1:35-10 people
3:30-7 people
4:45-5 people
6:30-0 people
18 vendors closed/15 open
11:45-19 people
1:30- 10 people
3:00-8 people
6:45-16 people
11 vendors closed /22 open
11:30-6 people
1:30-10 people
3:00-5 people
5:00-15 people
8 vendors closed/25 open
11:30-7 people
12:39-3 people
2:30-15 people
6:30-23 people
8:00-0 people
6 vendors closed/27 open
12-10-2011 (Saturday)
12:30-41 people
2:15-45 people
3:00-72 people
4:30-300 people
6:30-425 people
12-11-2011 (Sunday)
Noon-17 people
1:00-24 people
3:30-75 people
5:30-25 people
8 vendors closed/25 open

What a far cry this is from the 7,000-per-day visits we were promised when Idaho developer Mark Rivers came to town to beg for $450,000 in taxpayer money to help fund his promised world-class affair.

With an average of 20 vendors open daily, it is not as large as other outdoor Holiday Markets in other cities that can be found through a simple Internet search.

Union Square Holiday Market in New York City, for instance, has more than 100 vendors and is five times the size of the Niagara Holiday Market.

In fairness, Rivers did qualify it by saying his was the largest "European-style" Holiday Market. I'm not sure what's actually European about small wooden shacks built upon the design and scale of backyard tool sheds, with the addition of corrugated plastic roofs, adjacent to misshapen, sloppy tents.

It's not Swiss, Italian or French. Perhaps it is patterned after Dresden, 1946.

Many of the 33 (we were promised 80) shops were closed last week, presumably from lack of business, making the Niagara Holiday Market possibly the smallest Holiday Market -- European or otherwise -- in the United States. The Market simply does not have enough vendors to make it a destination for shoppers.

Rivers also promised the largest outdoor skating rink in Western New York. The rink he built is half the size of an official NHL rink. In fact, just up the street is Smokin' Joe's outdoor skating rink, which is more than twice the size of the Holiday Market rink.

Rivers also promised a Christmas tree similar in size and decorations to Rockefeller Center's 70-foot Norway spruce with its five miles of lighting. What we got from Rivers is an 18-foot Christmas tree with what appears to be a paper star at the top.

Another broken promise was that Rivers told us Tony Walker and Company -- the high-end fashion purveyor from Williamsville -- was to be one of the main vendors. He was supposed to occupy 10 vending booths. At a recent visit by our correspondent, Walker could not be found.

In fact, we were promised nothing but high-end vendors.

"This is not a carnival or a weekend street festival with funnel cakes," said Rivers, before the Market opened. "It is a world-class market and event that is already attracting the very best retailers and artisans from the region and beyond."

What we got was a motley, uneven and scanty group of vendors, including some in mobile food trucks -- an ultimately tacky and small street festival, without even the funnel cakes.

The annual Niagara Falls Italian Festival has more vendors and more economic impact, and the city and state do not fund it with $450,000 of taxpayer money. In fact, the city doesn't even want to give the Italian event organizers free use of the city bandstand without a fight.

Rivers also promised exciting jam-packed concerts at the conference center. Four concerts have been presented, and not a word has been published about any of them after the concerts -- which indicates attendance was weak.

The conference center seats about 2,300 to 2,400 people. At the Aaron Neville Christmas Concert on Dec. 1, according to a source who was there, there were less than 500 people in attendance. The Canadian Tenors Christmas Concert had more people, having slightly less than 900 in attendance. Elisabeth Von Trapp's two concerts last week drew about 300 people, according to our source.

Taxpayers paid Rivers $450,000 to put on this Holiday Market. Rivers was supposed to match taxpayer money with his own money, or with outside sponsors' money, and invest that into the Market. In other words, this Market was supposed to have $900,000 invested in it.

Where is it?

From general appearances, it looks doubtful that even the $450,000 of public money was used to build the 33 tool/vendor sheds and tents, buy and install a midget Christmas tree, build a tiny ice-skating rink, have a few small sideshow events -- like hiring a Santa to pose with kids for pictures -- and hire four comparatively low-budget concert acts.

It will be a test of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster's administration's transparency if they hold Rivers to any sort of honest public accounting of how and where he spent taxpayers' money.

Niagara Falls police made an arrest last week in the shooting death of 20-year-old Brandon Johnson, an accounting major at Niagara University. Johnson was killed during a robbery attempt in an apartment at University Court.

Police said Gordon Jackson of Niagara Falls entered the apartment as a guest, then left and returned with a sawed-off shotgun. While attempting to rob a group of people there, Jackson fatally shot Johnson in the head.

When questioned by Channel 4 investigative reporter Luke Moretti, both on the murder and whether this indicates a rise in crime, Dyster made this statement, a remarkable testament of insensitivity and self-serving political spin and counterspin:

"We can't prevent every crime in the city of Niagara Falls, but I think the fact that this was only, and I use that word advisedly, but only our third homicide of the year shows that at least in terms of fatal violent crime, we're making progress."

Who else would call the murder of a 20-year-old man "progress"?

For the victim's parents, this is the only murder in Dyster's city that matters. Words of deep and sincere condolence are called for, and we at the Niagara Falls Reporter wish to express our

heartfelt regret that a young man with such promise and a bright world before him was taken away.

No matter how many times Niagara Falls police brass say crime is down, the fact is crime seems out of control.

The police are doubtless handcuffed in part by the Attorney General-Mayor Dyster consent order that serves to second guess police any time they arrest a minority criminal.

The consent order Dyster signed originated from a couple dozen criminals who said police handled them too roughly, not because they were predatory villains, but because they were African-American.

Meantime, this is a city that feels it is in increasing danger from some of these same so-called victims who will commit murder, robbery, burglary, sell drugs, invade homes, and shoot guns in the dead of night.

With the retirement of Police Chief John Chella at the end of this year, Dyster will perhaps conduct one of his nationwide searches to find a new police chief. Perhaps he may hire within the department. Either way, I believe a change has to be made in one facet of policing at least.

The police in this city number 156. Yet there are only six marked cars on patrol per shift.

In one of the media stories on the murder of Brandon Johnson -- the one in which Dyster said it proved "progress," since Johnson's was only the third murder of the year -- a neighbor said, "There's not enough cops."

On a Buffalo News blog, a writer said, "Because of budget cuts in the Falls, there aren't enough cops."

There have been discussions lately among elected officials on the topic of trying to get state approval to use casino money to hire more cops.

An impression has been created: We're out-manned, and to battle the thugs, we need more cops.

Putting more than six police patrol cars on the street may not have prevented Johnson's murder, but might go a long way in battling criminals and deterring others from making Niagara Falls their city of choice for committing crime.

Before we go out and spend millions more to hire more police, someone has to stand up and ask, why, with 156 police on the force, why are there only six cars, with a sole patrolman in each, on the streets at any one time?

We need a police chief with the guts to take a policeman from each of several "special" units, take the policeman out of City Hall -- who protects the mayor from nonexistent crime -- and take some from the disproportionately large number of officers assigned to desk jobs, put them in cars, and double patrol-car presence overnight.

If a total of only 18 police, per three shifts per day, are out on patrol, what are the other hundred or so doing every day? What job is more important than patrolling violent streets?

There is no shortage of police. There is a shortage, however -- and it is an egregious shortcoming within the present police force management -- of police assigned to patrolling the streets.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Dec. 13, 2011