Flee Market

Chelsea's weekend bazaar hangs on for dear life

This article has been corrected.


Last year, one half of (the outdoor portion of) The Annex Antiques Fair & Flea Market was laid to rest. Meanwhile, the mournful community wept—I can't imagine it was just me, clutching dusty armchairs and screaming, "Why?" à la Nancy Kerrigan. I try to console myself with the fact that there are still plenty of Super 8 cameras and 1950s office furniture to be purchased at the remaining lot. Not to mention tamales to be consumed as "fuel" from the competing carts just outside the gates.

Recently, several vendors at the surviving "dollar lot", which charges a buck admission, have told me the space has been sold and faces the same demise. Of course, rumors abound in this community. The flea market's PR representative, Kristina Ratliff, declared this one "absolutely not true." The lot has not been sold. My sigh of relief ended abruptly when she went on to say, "There is anticipation that the space will be developed, like every lot in the city, although we don't know when."

In 1976, a creative entrepreneur named Alan Boss founded The Annex Antiques Fair & Flea Market. Like many great retail legends, its humble beginnings quickly flourished to become a requisite New York activity. Serious collectors and antiquers—as well as casual tchotchke shoppers—flocked to an area that previously was mostly a destination for spectators at Madison Square Garden and students at FIT. The initial handful of hopeful vendors, at its peak, became 800. One lot became many, including two floors of indoor venders in the parking lot around the corner.

The northeastern edge of Chelsea was not long ago a no man's land in real estate terms, despite its convenient location. It has been known only for artists' lofts, wholesale suppliers of socks with cats on them, and plants on 28th Street. It seems odd, really, that it has taken so long for developers to take over. But as soon as they did, the stretch of Sixth Avenue had already been priced far out of the league of any small shop, or even larger independent companies. It has been littered with apartment buildings and national chains in just a few years. Where there was once a table full of collectable salt-and-pepper shakers, there is now an Olive Garden, of all things.

It's clear the days are numbered before the dollar lot undergoes inevitable transformations—first into a barren gravesite (as the Con Ed spot remains still), then a mass of heinous scaffolding, and finally, another beige condominium, which will likely house a terrifying chain restaurant on the ground floor. Until then, I can be found almost every Saturday and Sunday, rifling through racks of old sundresses, rows of vintage bicycles, and piles of cast iron skillets.

Ratliff assured me that "if and when the Chelsea market closes, every single vendor will move to the Hell's Kitchen market, which is much bigger." It takes up an entire block, on 39th Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues, and has room for 200 vendors, according to Ratliff. The Hell's Kitchen Flea Market was also founded by Alan Boss, in 2003, and apparently is the wave of the future. Ratliff told me that it was "never going to be developed," which I really want to believe.

When the time comes, I want to be prepared. Here are some other popular flea markets around town:

Hell's Kitchen Flea Market
West 39th street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues
212.242.1217
The next Chelsea, apparently. This fast-growing space was started by Alan Boss, the man who started Chelsea in 1976. Here, there is food to buy (prepared as well as fresh produce and flowers) and plastic tables with umbrellas for shoppers to recuperate. But the vendors are serious about their collection—and some creations. Look for furniture, mirrors, and other house-wares, as well as hit-or-miss jewelry and vintage accessories.

The Market NYC
268 Mulberry street
Also known as "The Young Designer's Market," and "The Nolita Market," this indoor space is full of independent designers on Saturdays and Sundays (11-7). Some of the goods are less-than-exciting, like silk-screened American Apparel T-shirts you could make for less, but some exciting stalls have wooden jewelry and, recently, skirts made out of keffiyehs.

PS 321 Antique Flea Market
Seventh Avenue, near 1st street, Park Slope
718.421.6763
Best bets here are furniture, especially '50s and country-house styles. Open Saturdays and Sundays.

Greenflea
Columbus Avenue between 76th and 77th streets
Open Sundays only (10-6), this flea market, named for its farmer stands, will not satisfy vintage collectors or antiquers, but for a neighborhood outing, it's quite nice. The inedible goods here are mostly arts 'n' crafts and books.

Avenue A Flea Market
11st street, Avenue A
This one is—how do you say—kinda crappy. Nonetheless, a determined shopper can find something they definitely don't need, but feel they must have. There are no tents, just tables piled with things that really just seem like someone's old junk, rather than part of a "collection".

 
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