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The Retrophile Files: From Humble Beginnings, Brooklyn Flea is Second Fiddle No More

by DeDe Sullivan (03/12/12).

 

Pin-up girl art is very popular at Brooklyn Flea Market, which has grown exponentially since its original launch in 2008. You can take your pick of two venues: one at Skylight One Hanson in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and the other at Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg.

Brooklyn Flea had a humble start in 2008. It had a good location in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, and an assortment of vendors, but alas, no shoppers. Luckily, perseverance prevailed. Today the market is one of New York City’s top attractions, in addition to being the largest flea market in the city, a title that was once reserved for a Manhattan-based flea. Except for the few rare weeks when the market is closed after New Year’s, the flea is open every Saturday and Sunday.

During the winter months, the event is held indoors at Skylight One Hanson, a former bank whose interior is considered an Art Deco masterpiece. In April, the market moves outdoors; Saturdays in Fort Greene and Sundays in Williamsburg. Visitors at each location are treated to a wide range of antiques, repurposed furniture, vintage clothing and collectibles, as well as a tightly curated selection of crafts by designers. And for you foodies, artisanal food abounds.

In addition to eclipsing similar fleas based in Manhattan, Brooklyn Flea has had a huge impact on the communities surrounding each market by providing a much-needed economic stimulus to area businesses, vendors and local entrepreneurs. I recently caught up with one of the market’s founders, Eric Demby, to learn more about how Brooklyn Flea Market became a major shopping destination.

DeDe Sullivan: Before Brooklyn Flea started, what were you and the co-founder of Brooklyn Flea, Jonathan Butler, doing for a living?

Eric Demby: Well, I am the former communications director for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and Jonathan Butler, is the founder of Brownstoner.com, Brooklyn’s biggest blog.

DeDe: So you both were already Brooklyn insiders before launching the market. How did the flea start?

Eric: Most of the markets in Manhattan closed by 2008 due to real estate forces. The burgeoning brownstone Brooklyn migration called out for a central gathering place; a sort of old-fashioned town square. The artisanal food movement was just getting going but had no shape to it. The Brooklyn handmade scene was also quite strong and known, but had few strong retail outlets. But really, we had access to a big lot at a good price in a great area and decided to go for it and see what happened.

DeDe: How did you find vendors initially?

Eric: Through a call for vendors we posted on Brownstoner. We’ve had more than 12,000 people apply for the markets since we first announced it on the site in December 2009.

Skylight One Hanson, Brooklyn Flea’s winter home, is an Art Deco masterpiece.

DeDe: Wow, that is impressive. How much does it cost to set up shop at the flea?

Eric: It has been $100 for a 10-foot-by-10-foot space since 2008. However, this year for the very first time, the price might go up a little. We do our best to keep the price for space low so our best vendors will return again and again.

DeDe: It appears that Brooklyn Flea is not just a market, but a tight-knit community. Can you expand on that?

Eric: Many of the vendors are from Brooklyn, so there is common ground between most of us. Plus, many of us bonded during the earlier years when crowds were inconsistent. I used to write an all-vendor e-mail every Monday to keep people’s spirits up: letting them know about press, new vendors, promotions, things we were doing to improve their experience. The message was always that we’re all in this together, and by us all showing up and doing our best we would all collectively benefit in the long run. I had no idea at the time, but we turned out to be right!

DeDe: How has Brooklyn Flea affected the surrounding communities where each market is located?

Eric: For one thing, the flea attracts thousands of people. This has a huge spillover effect for area businesses, which hire extra people for the increased foot traffic. The market makes each neighborhood a destination by providing each weekend a public gathering space that’s free, open and inviting. The market also attracts tourists from all over the world who might not otherwise visit Brooklyn, which impacts the communities in mostly positive ways. But I think the flea’s biggest impact is how it elevates Brooklyn from its longtime status as second fiddle to Manhattan. The markets prove that Brooklyn has something that Manhattan doesn’t or—literally—can’t even have anymore. Manhattan lost the qualities that make Brooklyn special; tighter-knit neighborhoods, a creative class and strong, family-friendly environments. This is mostly because of the skyrocketing real estate costs in Manhattan.

A vintage toy tractor was spotted for sale at the market.

DeDe: OK, back to vintage. Can you share some of your favorite vintage and antiques places in Manhattan and Brooklyn?

Eric: I still love the Antiques Garage on West 25th Street. I love the Pier shows. Eddie’s Salvage in Clinton Hill is awesome. I like the vintage records at CO-OP 87 in Greenpoint and Academy Records. The small vintage boutiques in the East Village still do it for me; Baxter & Liebchen’s Scandinavian Modern in DUMBO is awesome; and City Foundry on Atlantic Ave. is just the best, with nearby newcomer Bright Lyons right up there too.

DeDe: Can you share the names of a few vintage vendors who sell at Brooklyn Flea that we should keep our eye on?

Eric: Vintage, Daily Memorandum: returning this month, also building out a huge old warehouse in central Penn. Young smart couple with a great eye. Evan Jones has excellent, tight selection of LPs. Bespoke Glass Tile makes everything by hand in Brooklyn, great for renovations.

DeDe: What is next for Brooklyn Flea?

Eric: Not sure yet but stay tuned!

Visit Brooklyn Flea’s website for additional information.

 

Brooklyn Flea has two locations: one is at Skylight One Hanson, 1 Hanson Place (at Ashland Pl., Fort Greene, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217, open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the other is at Brooklyn Brewery, 79 North 11th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211,. Sundays from Noon to 5 p.m.; For more information, e-mail to info@brooklynflea.com“> info@brooklynflea.com or visit its website at www.brooklynflea.com.

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DeDe Sullivan is a retrophile with a particular fondness for junktiques; discarded vintage treasures whose aesthetic worth far exceeds its monetary value. Her blog, VintageandFlea.com, documents her junking and antiquing adventures. This includes sharing her favorite places to score unique items, the history behind unusually finds, along with display and upcycling ideas. Have a question or story to tell? Shoot her an e-mail at dede@vintageandflea.com“> dede@vintageandflea.com!

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