Brooklyn Flea Bringing Popular Outdoor Market to Park Slope

By Leslie Albrecht on September 23, 2013 8:22am 

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 The popular Brooklyn Flea outdoor market will take over the space in front of P.S. 321 in October.
Brooklyn Flea Coming to Park Slope
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PARK SLOPE — Popular outdoor market Brooklyn Flea will launch a Park Slope location in October.

Starting Columbus Day weekend, Brooklyn Flea will set up shop in front of P.S. 321 at Seventh Avenue and First Street, replacing an antiques and bric-a-brac market that's been a neighborhood fixture for at least 30 years.

The al fresco bazaar will have roughly 40 vendors and will focus on antiques, furniture, vintage clothing and handmade items, said Brooklyn Flea co-founder Eric Demby.

While Brooklyn Flea's other markets have blossomed into tourist destinations, Demby said he wants the new Park Slope location to retain a neighborhood-based feel.

"We feel like we're returning to our local roots — it's where you'll go when you just moved into an apartment and you need a dresser," Demby said.

Brooklyn Flea gets so many applications from vintage clothing and antiques vendors that there are waiting lists to sell those items at the Flea's successful Fort Greene and Williamsburg locations, Demby said. The Park Slope market will "put the spotlight" on those types of vendors, Demby said.

The Fort Greene and Williamsburg Brooklyn Flea locations are known for a wide variety of edible offerings — from artisanal soda to lobster rolls — but the Park Slope outpost will likely have just one, if any, food vendors, Demby said.

That's because the space outside P.S. 321 doesn't have the infrastructure needed to support food vending, such as electricity and bathrooms. Demby said he and partner Jonathan Butler also want to be respectful of existing eateries in the area.

"[At P.S. 321] you're directly across the street from five or six food establishments," Demby said. "We want to make sure that local businesses feel like we’re helping them, not hurting."

Demby called taking over the long-running market outside P.S. 321 bittersweet, because it will mean the end of a neighborhood institution. He lives in Prospect Heights and, like many locals, has spent more than a few weekend afternoons browsing through the market's quirky offerings, some of which are displayed on P.S 321's playground equipment.

The market's current manager said it would be difficult for the existing vendors to stay if the price to rent a spot rises significantly. Fees for vendors at Brooklyn Flea's Fort Greene and Williamsburg markets range from $120 to $275 per day, according to its website. The fee at the existing P.S. 321 market went up to $40 in April after years at $30 per day, said Paul, the current manager, who declined to give his last name.

The price has been kept intentionally low so a range of vendors could participate and sell their goods relatively cheaply, he said. Some of vendors are a "little truculent," and the merchandise is sometimes "coated with crud and dust," he said, but every weekend his customers finds treasures worth taking home.

The cast of sellers includes a woman who sells African batiks for a Ghanaian charity and a man who peddles glass bottles excavated from local beaches.

"The idea was to have a vendor set-up that includes everyone," Paul said. "If a grandmother wants to set up her stuff on a clothesline, she can do it without suffering greatly [financially]. We wanted to do it with a wide variety of people who didn’t necessarily do it as a career."

He added, "That’s the old Brooklyn. Everything else in Brooklyn isn’t affordable, so why should this be?"

The space outside P.S. 321 is city-owned, and it became available to new operators when the Department of Education issued a request for proposals earlier this year. Brooklyn Flea had considered bidding on the space a few years back, but Demby and Butler decided not to because it was more than they could handle at the time, Demby said.

Now Brooklyn Flea has successfully expanded to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and the P.S. 321 space seemed like a good opportunity that would be relatively simple to manage, Demby said. It's only 7,000 or 8,000 square feet, a fraction of the sprawling 40,000-square-foot space in Fort Greene.

P.S. 321's PTA, which is not involved in selecting the marker's operator, takes in revenue from the rental fees associated with the market — about $40,000 annually in recent years, according to the PTA's recent tax documents. Brooklyn Flea's arrival could mean a financial boost for the school.

Like other city schools, P.S. 321 has been hit with budget cuts, but PTA fundraising has helped the school maintain its rich arts curriculum. The PTA funded five arts teaching positions last year, Principal Liz Phillips said at a PTA meeting this week.

P.S. 321 PTA leaders did not respond to requests for comment.

Demby said he and Butler are glad Brooklyn Flea's new market will be supporting a school.

"Public schools can use all the help that they can get," Demby said.

The Brooklyn Flea market outside P.S. 321 will start the weekend of Oct. 12 and will run Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The market will probably be open through December, then shut down for the winter and reopen in late March or early April, Demby said.

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