Market Crash

Talking with Alan Boss, Flea founder, as Chelsea site closes

This article has been corrected.


It's official: After 29 years in the neighborhood, The Annex Antiques Fair & Flea Market, on Sixth Avenue at 26th Street, will bid farewell to its last haggler this weekend. The company that owns the parking lot where the vendors are located, Bonafide Estates, has plans to build a residential building on the site with the development group Rose Associates.

Future Flea? The Hell's Kitchen Flea Market
photo: Shelly Taggar
Future Flea? The Hell's Kitchen Flea Market

Details

The Annex Antiques Fair & Flea Market will be closed after this Sunday, July 31. The 26th Street vendors are expected to be at Hells' Kitchen the very next weekend, August 5th and 6th. There will be a shuttle bus running from the Chelsea site to the Hell's Kitchen site indefinitely. The Smith Street Bazaar, on Smith at Union Street in Carroll Gardens, will be open every day except Mondays starting after Labor Day.

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We called Alan Boss, the Bronx-born entrepreneur who founded the Market in 1976, and let him lift our spirits a little with promises of a New Age at his Hell's Kitchen Flea Market—and beyond Manhattan.

So, when is the flea market actually moving? Next Sunday (July 31) will be the last day on Sixth Avenue.

Oh my God. Isn't it a comedown? You know, I've been doin' this since the first day, which was May the 20th, 1976. So, I've kind of aged with it, it's been my livelihood and it has been the livelihood for many vendors. The one thing you can be guaranteed of in life is change, and, I kinda welcome it—in the sense that, I could be upset, I could be depressed, I could be disappointed—where is that gonna get me?

For months, I've been hearing all kinds of theories from vendors about what's happening in Chelsea. Well, vendors are great—they deal in rumor. If you'd like to describe vendors in general, they're a cross between gypsies and circus people. And that's what you're dealing with. Actually, I like to characterize the flea market, for me as a business, as being the world's largest group therapy session.

What comfort can you offer longtime shoppers? How'd you think I feel, since I founded it?

Tell me. How do you feel? I feel very resigned to the fact that the inevitability of its move, based in this city, has come. I was always looking over my shoulder, so to speak, and I did what I could to prepare. Having found an alternative location [the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market] is a good thing, the way I see it. 99.9% of all the vendors want to [make the move], because . . . what's the alternative, not doin' it? Changing your livelihood and the way of your life now? So, I kinda see the glass as half full instead of half empty.

I hear you're starting something in Brooklyn, too. We just signed the lease today on Smith Street. It's not a big place. It's a hundred feet by 20 feet. There's gonna be a tent there, so it'll be protected from the elements, and we're moving the kiosks from Sixth Avenue, too. Those are getting done away with along with the flea market moving, so we're bringing them. And in the tent we'll have artists and craftspeople, and some antiques.

Why is New York so flea market-challenged? It's that New York City, as a municipality, never supported it. So, basically, in every other major city around the world, the municipality kinda like, gives a little help.

They get it. Yeah, right. We as Americans, having little or no culture, we figure that if you can build on two feet by four feet, you should have a building there, and screw anything that came before it. So, nobody supported it. Well, actually, because we have 39th street (The Hell's Kitchen Flea Market), which is a street, we did get the support of the Bloomberg administration, and I think that's largely because Mr. Bloomberg, before being a politician, was a businessman, and saw the practical way of things. And didn't sell his entire soul to developers.

So, are you going to vote for him? Um, I would say . . . no comment. I would say that I have a dim view of all politicians, not the least of which is the fair president of this great country. Because, dim is a good word to describe him.

Hell's Kitchen is the next big thing, apparently. Is it true that that Flea Market is guaranteed to stay there forever and never, ever close? Nothing is guaranteed to stay forever—not even me! Let's put it this way, from a practical point of view, we are up there for renewal every year at the behest of the city administration and the community board. We are very user-friendly with the community because we're a member of it, so we don't have a problem there. I don't think we have a problem with the administration, and the one thing that you would have to really worry about would be development, but that can't take place on 39th Street, for the simple reason that, because of its location in relation to the Lincoln Tunnel, 39th Street, over there, acts as a bridge. So I think we're safe for now.

And there's really room for all the Chelsea guys? All those guys are gonna be there. Your favorite guys are gonna be on 39th between 9th and 10th.

What about the tamale guys—can they come, too? Well, the tamale carts are welcome to come if they like. It's cool.

I feel a little better. The glass is half full! Please, the glass is half full. Listen, I should be the glummest guy goin'. We're all still alive, and the market may change its location, but hey, you know something? We get a little tired when we're in the same place for too long, right?

 
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