“Wow, I remember a time when you’d never just walk past something like this,” said our friend J., stopping in front of a jaw-dropping beaded flapper dress at the Triple Pier Show last weekend. And of course he was right—back in the day, we used to wear Clara Bow-worthy confections everywhere—to Gristedes, to the local multiplex, even to just sit in front of a computer terminal for eight hours. (We once went to England for a week and brought with us six 1920s evening dresses and a velvet opera coat.)
Way back when, we’d meet J. at the Munson Diner at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. on Pier Show weekends (J’s one of those people who has to be first in the door at an antique show.) Now the Munson is gone, hauled away to a new home upstate last spring, and we mosey (OK, taxi) over to the piers at 11:30 or so, dressed in newer, if hardly normal, clothes.
Which isn’t to say that we don’t still long for the pier shows to roll around—they’re in November, January, and March—with the same fervor that a six year old waits for Christmas. (Actually, two Christmases—the November pier show, so enticing last weekend, is back this weekend as well.) As a matter of fact, we suspect we are seeing, in the 600 or so glittering booths spread across the three piers, many of the exact same things that first saw light under a Christmas tree decades ago: stuffed bears unwrapped by eager chubby hands in 1910, monogrammed cigarette cases intended for louche Nora Charles types, diamond-studded powder compacts bought just before the ’29 crash.
And though eBay has its charms (why else would we be up at six in the morning to bid on a Victorian pincushion?) there’s nothing like seeing these survivors in person, and whiling away the hours trading war stories—the memorial ring that got away! The broken doll’s head satisfactorily repaired at long last!—with the hundreds of dealers in attendance to make you feel just a little less like a nut.
This longing to hang out with dealers and other collectors, to wander from counter to counter in a delightful glassy-eyed stupor, is more acute than ever these days, what with the demise of the 26th Street flea market, an event so painful we can’t even look at the lot—now a construction site—when we pass it on the Sixth Avenue bus. As if the end of a decades-old Manhattan institution isn’t painful enough, J. called us two weekends ago to report that the beloved Garage, the bi-level parking area that serves as a weekend flea market, was suddenly closed as well, and though a sign promised this was temporary and due to structural repairs, it leaves us jittery.
Without the outdoor lots and the Garage, what’s an antiquer to do on an ordinary Pier-less Sunday? Wonder around Bloomingdale’s looking at expensive, depressing, squeaky-clean new merchandise? What if we suddenly crave a pressed tin labor union match safe or a Dean’s Rag Book Mickey Mouse puppet? (OK, it’s true, we already have these, but what if we crave another of each?)
They don’t sell this stuff at Bergdorf’s.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 1, 2005