International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Is there nothing better than a sunny afternoon spent poking around a flea market, fuelled by home-made snacks? In Brooklyn? We recently discovered the fabulous, delicious Brooklyn Flea and decided to ask Eric Demby, one of its founders, a few questions.
Who started Brooklyn Flea? And why?
I co-founded the Flea with Jonathan Butler, my partner and founder/publisher of Brownstoner.com, Brooklyn's biggest blog. Jonathan organized a "Salvage Fest" in the same neighborhood as the Flea in 2007 with about 10 architectural salvage dealers, and it went so well he thought about expanding it. He and I share a love for the bygone Chelsea and Manhattan flea markets of yore, and agreed that the idea of a Brooklyn Flea had legs.
Jonathan and I knew each other from working for the Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. When Jonathan mentioned he was thinking about starting a flea market, I was looking for a lifestyle change. This was the perfect project for my Brooklyn/community/curating spirit. Jonathan nailed down the schoolyard in Fort Greene, I set about finding 150 vendors for our opening day, curating them with an eye toward quality, threw in the Red Hook Food Vendors and some other foodies and hired a marching band to play opening day. 20,000 people came, the Times did a photo shoot, and here we are.
What has been your greatest, and spookiest, flea market find?
I loved the stackable footstools from the Mary Tyler Moore Show set a lot. I have a gorgeous yellow glass modern lamp from Sweden that's a fave too. Spookiest? Gotta be the display case tandem of actual pulled teeth and rusty dental instruments. Literally made my teeth ache, like nails on a chalkboard. But awesome!
What do you look for in a potential vendor?
A certain level of professionalism, which translates to showing up as scheduled, paying on time, etc. I'm always curating the market toward this ideal balance of vintage/antiques, craft/design, food, and new clothing and jewelry. I like each vintage person to be distinctive in some way, for the food to be made locally and in small batches and sold by the maker when possible, for the clothing to be unique and not mass-produced (also sold by the maker if possible), and in general for vendors to sell things that shoppers can only find at the Flea. That's how we've made the markets such a destination.
Have any fights ever broken out over a particularly sought-after item?
I have never seen that happen personally, but I know that a pair of Italian lamps my wife and I coveted were sold literally from under our nose while we standing in the vendor's booth and discussing the price we would offer. We were pissed.
Describe an average day at the flea - the sights, smells, sounds and vibe.
In Fort Greene on Saturdays, it's all about the vibe. We have a core group of 100-plus vendors who come every week and love to interact with the local and visitor customers, which creates a sort of community spirit rather than a profit-minded market. (We have our share of crabby vendors too, who we love.) Our DJ Jay Stewart (longtime disco/garage head, helped start the Central Park roller-boogie spot) plays groovy tunes from on top of the bleachers by the school, the cutest collection of hipster guys and gals try on crazy outfits and buy them for $20, tourists from Japan buy vintage records, grandmas buy vintage and handmade jewelry, a Scavenger Hunt winner finds the hidden antique lunchbox prize and screams with delight, and a young couple carries their new/vintage Herman Miller armchair out of the yard. The smells: fresh-ricotta cannoli, artisanal grilled cheese, Salvadoran pupusas, fresh French croissant, the homemade wood-fired brick oven mobile pizzeria, the kimchi Asia Dogs, it goes on and on.