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Brooklyn Flea Cancels Williamsburg Site Amid Growing Community Discontent

 Around 20,000 poeple turned up to Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea on a recent spring weekend.
Around 20,000 poeple turned up to Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea on a recent spring weekend.
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Courtesy of Andre Van Hoek

WILLIAMSBURG — Owners of Brooklyn Flea canceled their East River State Park outpost and are looking for a new home after a month of mobbed Saturdays where between 10,000 and 20,000 people turned up to pick through vintage wares, they said.

Smorgasburg, run by the flea's co-owners Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler, will continue to operate in the park each Saturday, though it will do so amidst growing discontent from local residents about the amount of space the market occupies inside the waterfront park.

Some community members question how the two events managed to secure the majority of the public park every weekend.

"The state and the city as well, [they] shouldn't be in the business of promoting an exclusive monopoly," said Andre van Hoek, who declined to give his age but said he'd lived in Williamsburg for the last 25 years. He wrote a letter to State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and the local community board asking that Smorgasburg's ability to use the park be re-examined.

"Public space should be public space," he said, comparing the takeover of the park by the private markets to "apartheid."

He pointed to signs hung recently outside the park that said no outside food or drink allowed.

State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol's chief of staff Cathy Peake confirmed that his office had fielded concerns about improper signage and security issues at Smorgasburg this season.

The signs will now be changed, "to make their intent clearer," Demby said, who added the signs were supposed to address Smorgasburg's so-called zero-waste operation in which everything is composted. He said it was meant to encourage parkgoers to throw away non-compostable items before entering the park.

"We are revising that language," he said.

But beyond an effort to bar people from bringing outside food and drink into a public park, those pushing for North Brooklyn parks are worried about local residents getting access to the precious waterfront space.

"We're so open space starved in this part of part of Brooklyn, I just wonder if this that's the best use," said Steve Chesler, who has advocated or open space at Bushwick Inlet Park and Transmitter Park — where he's now fighting the city's plan to build a restaurant and bar. 

"How many people there are actually from the neighborhood?" he asked "[We need] more transparency and communication with the community."

Smorgasburg has operated each warm season out of the East River State Park since 2013. At that time, The Real Deal reported that residents were concerned about the no-bid process that had granted the operation its access to the park.

The Flea had relocated to the East River State Park alongside Smorgasburg after eight years of operation in Fort Greene.

Smorgasburg currently pays $5,800 to the state each Saturday for right to use the two concrete slabs through an annual permitting process, said State Parks spokesman Dan Keefe.

As in years past, the event was approved to use the park every Saturday from April through October, though he added the park remains open to people who aren't attending Smorgasburg.

"It's not an exclusive park to a certain neighborhood," Keefe said. "Our goal is to welcome people and offer different programs and different events that people enjoy."