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Twinned fetish fairs split

Folsom Fair North won't pay for use of name

A CROSS TO BEAR. This past Folsom Fair North may have been the event's last as an affiliate of its namesake, San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair. Credit: (RJ Martin)

The San Francisco-based founders of the popular fetish-oriented Folsom Street Fair have cut all ties with their Toronto cousin, Folsom Fair North.

Though Folsom Street Fair continues affiliations with Folsom Fair East in New York and Folsom Europe in Berlin, it has removed mentions of Folsom Fair North from its website. Folsom Street Fair’s Darryl Flick refused to comment on the split.

“I would love to speak freely, but it would not be fair to anyone involved,” says Flick.

Toronto’s Folsom Fair North was cofounded in 2003 by organizers John Tiffany and Dean Price after a mutual friend was prevented from attending San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair because of his HIV status. US policy lists being HIV-positive as grounds for inadmissibility into the country.

When asked if Folsom Street Fair would take action against Toronto’s organizers if they go ahead with their event next year under the same name, Flick would only say that, “no contract has been signed for 2006.”

Toronto cofounder John Tiffany isn’t worried.

“We are a completely independent, nonprofit in Canada. We’re not owned by anyone,” says Tiffany.

San Francisco’s organizers helped Toronto set up its annual leather and fetish exhibition using the Folsom brand in 2003, says Tiffany. Like its American cousin, Folsom Fair North was envisioned as a fundraiser for selected charities. San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair or similar leather and fetish events have been taking place in that city since the 1970s.

“But we are not a franchise,” Tiffany says.

Tiffany says he and Price signed a contract in 2003 with San Francisco’s organizers to use the name Folsom Street Fair North, and provide them with six percent of the Toronto fair’s net proceeds. But because Folsom North didn’t make any profit its first two years, local charities and San Francisco got nothing, says Tiffany. San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair was listed as a sponsor instead.

This year Folsom North’s lawyer advised Toronto organizers that they would be in violation of their own bylaws if they gave any profits to San Francisco, says Tiffany.

“This year we said [to San Francisco’s Folsom] we’ll give you sponsorship, but we won’t pay six percent because it’s illegal to do so,” says Tiffany.

Folsom Fair North’s board voted this summer not to pay San Francisco a share of this year’s profits, and in August local organizers received word that San Francisco was dropping Toronto as an affiliate.

“They’re kind of upset because we won’t pay them,” says Tiffany.

Last month Tiffany announced that he expects Folsom North to make a profit of about $5,000 this year, all of which will be going to the AIDS Committee Of Toronto (ACT). Final numbers won’t be known until December. All ACT has received from the previous two years is leftover bottled water.

Despite the break-up, Tiffany says plans are already under way for Folsom Fair North in 2006. They won’t be changing their name.

“No one can trademark the name of a street,” says Tiffany. “They have no rights over us here.”

Controversy has stung Folsom Fair North since its first year, with confusion over what happens to the money raised, especially over inconsistent charging of patrons at the door. Some visitors have been told in the past the $5 entry fee was going directly to benefit ACT. In fact, it’s always been going directly into the organization’s general revenues.

Folsom Fair North, with a $3,000 grant from the city, took over Allan Gardens last July with a beer garden, marketplace and a dancefloor. The two previous years took place in the parking lot across from Wellesley subway station.

According to its website, Folsom North drew 5,500 attendees in its first year in 2003, and between 15,000 and 17,000 in its second year in 2004. In a previous interview with Xtra, Tiffany put those numbers at 5,000 people and 8,000 respectively. This year Tiffany says Folsom drew about 10,000 people, although final numbers have not yet been calculated.