Gilt-Free Shopping for the Coming Depression

Collect yourself—and some collectibles

Since I have him on the phone, I ask him something I've always wondered about: How did Boss become lord of the New York fleas? "I made a left when I should have made a right," he laughs. "I used to live in a loft across the street from the first outdoor market, the one people called the 'free lot.' I opened the free lot with 10 vendors and 11 customers in 1976." Shortly thereafter, he took over the parking lot across the street, known as the "Dollar Market" because of its admission charge. "It took two years of work until I made any money. But at one time, we had four parking lots and the Garage—600, 700 dealers a weekend, and a waiting list." The highly regarded Dollar Market closed in September '05, a victim, Boss thinks, not just of the real estate situation but of the advent of eBay and what he refers to as "generational changes," by which I assume he means that the vast pool of hippies and boomers, once so entranced with Mickey Mouse watches and cookie jars, is rapidly dwindling.

Boss also runs the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market on Ninth Avenue and 39th Street, a venue I have never warmed to, though he claims that "whatever remnant there is of Sixth Avenue exists at 39th Street now. We're working on some new ideas for it." (Can these new ideas mean tents? Heat? Bathrooms?)

When I ask him if he collects anything himself, his voice rises. "I got no more room! I won't buy anything! My wife and I have many, many boxes from when we last moved, usually marked 'Fragile,' 'Very Fragile,' 'Extremely Fragile.' We're gonna sell the vast majority of it! These things require care, storage, responsibility. As I get older, I don't want any of it! I'm through. I'm over it!"

Flapper escapism
Courtesy the Rennert Collection, New York City
Flapper escapism

How can you say this? You're the guy who started it all. "I know. My friends said, 'You created a Frankenstein monster.' But I never had time to look at it."

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