Williamsburg Brooklyn, 2003

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On my desk hangs a photo that Amy and I took standing together on the road to Tulum. There was no such thing as a selfie. It was late November 2003. We ditched Thanksgiving in Brooklyn to clear our heads and chase the sun before we were to return and open Artists & Fleas on North 6th Street a few weeks later.

I remember waking up in a panic that first night wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.

We had a handshake deal with two cousins from the neighborhood whose family business, M&V Provisions, had occupied most of the industrial spaces on North 6th and Bedford — one space was for dry goods, another was a curing house for making sausages. They moved to Ridgewood a few years earlier when they could afford a bigger building on a wider street to accommodate 4AM deliveries and tractor trailers.

williamsburg-market-exterior-north-6thA late night bike ride down North 6th street after swimming at the pool on Metropolitan when it still had some of the sheen from a recent renovation and the subsequent phone call that resulted in a handshake set Amy and me on a thrilling adventure that seems to capture so much of the vibe of and attraction to current day Brooklyn.

Looking back on it all 10 years later as I do quite often, I am filled with so many thoughts and feelings. Appreciation. Admiration. Anxiety. I am and have always been a deeply nostalgic person – not yearning for the past but connected to it for the richness that it provided and how those riches continue to inform so much of my current experience. The creative community – the artists, the makers, the collectors – and the enterprising people Amy and I have had the chance to meet, to talk with, to shop from, to watch, to learn, to grow is a culture and a force and it’s what makes New York City so welcoming, so interesting and so fresh. And it makes New York the kind of place that even in it’s harshest of moments I cannot imagine living without.

Thanks, Williamsburg. Thanks to thousands of doers and dreamers. Thanks, Amy. The next 10 years begins now.

Thank You, 8 Years Later

On the eve of what inevitably becomes a start to the mad dash finish of the holidays, we wanted to say thanks for an awesomely exciting adventure.

We started this journey on November 23, 2003 — 8 years ago today.

We loved markets. We loved stuff. But more importantly, we loved and longed for a community place where we could bring together the whole creative class that we knew – some as friends, many more as friends eventually – came to New York to make it happen. Much has changed since we got the keys to that warehouse on North 6th Street in Williamsburg. Etsy. Williamsburg. Brand Brooklyn. DIY and self-made artists as business people. The rise of the web and the subtle backlash to living online that is now IRL (in real life).

One thing has not changed: people come to the market the same way they come to New York – to stake out a dream, to make something, to tell a story, to sell something, to take a chance and make something happen. There are literally thousands of those stories we can recall after 8 years. The 28 year old musician who was beat from the road and turned a drawing hobby into a thriving buusiness. A vintage collector who turned the timing of a neighborhood in transition to become an icon in the vintage scene and a trusted friend to stylists and designers on everyone’s A list. 2 brothers pursuing their bean to bar chocolate dream and keeping it local. The painter with the piece commissioned by an up and coming collector.

The stories grow every weekend. And our biggest thrill as storytellers is to bring more and more of them to the market to be discovered. It is, after all, what makes the market a market and it’s what makes our little piece of Williamsburg Brooklyn a piece like no other.

Thanks for 8 great ones. Here’s to many more stories together.

Change is Good (for you & your business)

Artists & Fleas co-founder Amy Abrams runs In Good Company, an innovative office and community co-working space for women entrepreneurs in Flatiron. She penned this post yesterday for their blog and it begged to be re-posted here.

When my husband and I started Artists and Fleas 8 years ago, it was initially an experiment and passion project that eventually morphed into a labor of love and ultimately grew into a thriving business.

But Artists and Fleas did not become a real business until we started to treat it like a real business. Ironically, for a long time, Ronen and I strove to run the market so that it did not feel like it was a business. We wanted the artists, designers and vintage collectors to know that first and foremost, the goal of our business was to support their artistic creations/endeavors and be of service to the community. Business wasn’t so much anathema as it was just that there was not a working model or idea of how a business could avoid the cynicism of so much of the community. As the years passed, we realized we were doing a disservice to our vendors by not running the market like a business. And we also realized that there was an opportunity to define a business the way we wanted to, on our own terms, as a business that could meet our collective objectives and initial goals. We recognized the value of streamlining rules and regulations for consistency and creating an easy way to sign up to participate and contact us with questions. We also invested in marketing, social media and promotion to spread the word to a broader audience.  Running the market like a business was actually more beneficial to our community of vendors as it increased visibility for everyone and increased their sales opportunities.

Late last year, after being on N. 6th Street in Williamsburg for 8 years, our lease was up and it was time to move. We were confronted with another opportunity to take (both the market and) the business to the next level. Previously, we had moved the market 3 times (at first across the street, later next door and then next door, again) without giving it so much as a thought. But this time was different. This time with the neighborhood so enlivened, so many of our vendors reliant upon the market for their livelihood, and the Brooklyn “brand” in full bloom among many other factors, we felt a sense of responsibility and pride of ownership as we sought out a new home. We also had the benefit of history. A lot of history. Years of history. Mountains of vendor applications. Piles of anecdotes and feedback and input and nudge-nudge suggestions. We spent a lot of time trying to find a new home that was true to the spirit of the market (we wanted some of that old Williamsburg warehouse charm — you know, exposed brick, old wood beams, poor insulation) but that would also respond to the needs of the vendors (fitting rooms, nice bathrooms, reliable heat and air conditioning).

We had been steadily looking for spaces for years. Late this fall, we got the call and signed on the same day. We renovated a warehouse and then had our vendors move in and set up shop after the new year. Many of the vendors were dreading the idea of the move. The snow after Christmas did not make matters easier. Let’s be honest, moving sucks. But I realized that our move was good for everyone on many levels. One of the benefits we offer to our returning vendors who set up and sell weekly is the ability to create a store or the now-ubiquitous “pop-up shop” and leave their merchandise at the market during the week when we are closed. This can save vendors time and money schlepping their wares back and forth to and from storage or their homes. We realized that this benefit also became a liability for some vendors as it became easy for vendors to become complacent with their set up and display. We found that some vendors would put off rotating merchandise and bringing in new merchandise and merely show up, pull off their covering and, voila, be open for business. But new is what customers like to see. We noticed that vendors who treated their business like a business and implemented great merchandising tactics were very successful and cultivated a loyal following. Since we were moving, it was an opportunity for many of the vendors to rethink their mini-store fronts. For some this was exciting and for several others, it became a very real reminder of how they needed to take their business more seriously. It reminded me that change is good for your business. It helps remind you of your business strengths, goals, areas you need to improve and of all the opportunities and possibilities that running a business affords.

Our opening weekend (January 8/9)  at our new location at 70 N. 7th Street was a huge success. Tons of people were shopping and hanging out, despite the cold. It was great to see previous vendors, loyal customers and new faces, too! It felt inviting and happening. People were doing what they have always done at Artists and Fleas and for what the market promises: come to hang out, check out and shop.

Lessons Learned for Indie Biz

Peter from Polluted Eyeball, a Bushwick-based silkscreening and design company, shot us an email late last week on the eve of us opening our new space to share some memories of his early days at the market (excerpted below).

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Just so fucking great to get an email like this. Of course we remember Peter. In fact, I feel like there is not a single vendor from Year 1 that we do not remember — many of them fondly, you should know.

“I remember the first year of Artists and Fleas…it was super cold, especially up front by the doorway. The concrete floors were terrible on your feet too. It was like standing on blocks on ice for hours…I also remember someone selling glove warmers, though they went directly into our shoes. Then we would also throw large pieces of cardboard beneath our feet. This would help act as a buffer between the us and the ground. It worked…see, I learned something while I was there too! :)

As a whole, the experience was great. Being around others who are in similar situation is always exciting and inspiring. A lot has changed for my business since those days. Back then I was selling local band merch. Now I own a Screenprint Studio printing tee shirts, tote bags, hoodies, rock posters, artist editions…I also offer Monthly Workshops, Screen Creation & Studio Rentals…”


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Peter, like so many other vendors in those early days, was psyched to have a venue to set up and sell. More importantly, he seemed to dig the community vibe that was going on – figuring out what he wanted to make and do and sell and making connections with people.

Peep the pix to see who you recognize. Several faces that have gone on to achieve greatness each in their own way on both coasts doing their thing.

(Flea) Market Moves

We closed down 2010 and bid farewell to our old, humble digs on North 6th Street (below) late last week. Few of the vendors who have treated the market as their home away from home (or storage locker, or hoarding station, or pop-up shop) for the past few years shed a tear as they packed up and made the move with us to our new home on North 7th Street (above).

Change is good.

If you’ve spent some time in and around Williamsburg the past decade you have already seen more than your fair share of it. Ingri, from the House of Ingri, a vendor who was part of our maiden voyage in 2003 in a crumbling warehouse with no heat, no doors, no wifi quipped from her station at the Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar last month: I remember when people didn’t walk down Bedford beyond the mini-mall and getting folks to walk down North 6th seemed like work.

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We’re not ones to wax nostalgic more than is necessary. The ‘Burg blew up and continues to grow, attracting more different people with different backgrounds and interests and pursuits than ever before. If you have ever read Jane Jacobs, you’d instantly recognize that what is happening in and around Williamsburg is both natural and positive. It’s about growth. It’s what makes cities vital. It’s about the neighborhood. Walk down any side street in and around the northside and you’ll see what has made us committed to Artists & Fleas: community.

There is an undeniable rhythm to the neighborhood on any given day – a weekday morning has both the buzz of urbanites going to work and the energy of people who make Williamsburg their home (our neighbors across the street drive in from Princeton, NJ every day to their metal fabricating shop in an old Chinese laundry building).

As 2011 kicks off and we start it in a new location, we look forward to an exciting year of change for the market, the neighborhood and the broader community of artists, designers, independent entrepreneurs and the cult of creators.

Drop in and say hi. Make a new friend. Find a new get-up. We’ve got familiar faces and new ones with a whole bunch of goods that continue to make Artists & Fleas a vital community in the heart of Brooklyn.

Williamsburg 2.0

We started Artists & Fleas in 2003 with a simple mission: to create a place that would welcome anyone in and around the neighborhood who made something, collected something and wanted to try and sell it. It was about providing a low-to-no barrier to entry place for people to try and ply their trade and meet their market. Whether that meant a budding clothing designer with only 3 shirt styles or a Hungarian ex-rock & roller seeking a change of lifestyle from the road with a silk-screen and a folding table or a pair of bearded brothers who vowed not to shave until they sold their one-thousandth chocolate bar. It was and is about having new people come set up and sell every week.

Make no mistake: it was and always has been about the vendors.

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Its been a trip over the years to see so much change happen. And we are now on the cusp of even more change – for Artists & Fleas and for Williamsburg in general. Despite or perhaps because of the great boom and bust real estate market over the past 3 years, the retail landscape and the whole idea of what defines retail has changed a lot as well. Bedford Avenue blew up and continues to blow up beckoning new tenants every month. A small vintage and trade shop called Beacon’s Closet moved from their precious perch on Bedford Avenue’s main drag and put a stake in the ground on a largely un-trafficked block of North 11th Street and it became a retail destination. The warehouses of the neighborhood gave lots of people with some vision and some moxie a chance to turn a soul-less box into a destination for shopping, hanging, exploring art and music and design.

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Today, pop-up shops are all the rage. And large, established retail players have set their sights and placed bets on the Northside. Many of these large players (Duane Reade, Starbucks, Whole Foods) – whether rumored to come, on their way or already open – see in the neighborhood much of what we do: a place that attracts, appeals to and satisfies a wide range of tastes. But it’s not just a Williamsburg thing. It’s a New York City thing. New York is one of the few places we have come to experience that can demand and handle so many cravings for uniqueness and creativity.

At the same time, only New York can support the growth and success of so many seemingly competing stores located across the street, around the block or an avenue away. See big retail’s top-grossing locations along Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District (J Crew, Banana Republic, H&M, Club Monaco, Anthropologie, and so on), grocery stores in and around Union Square (Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Food Emporium, Union Square’s Green Market, all those delis & bodegas) or the burgeoning boutique scene along Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill/Brooklyn Heights (Steven Alan, Callalilai,the list goes on and on all the way to Barney’s CO-OP).

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For Williamsburg, it seems that pop-ups and markets are making the neighborhood a destination. Whether it’s the old school flea market vibe delivered Meeker Avenue Flea Market, the short-lived but immensely palate-pleasing Greenpoint Food Market, the even shorter-lived Williamsburg Flea Market, the food and vintage/salvage wonderland of the Brooklyn Flea. Long on the map for so many of so much, it is starting to feel like Williamsburg may really get on the map for anyone who loves markets and all that markets are about. To us, the biggest thrill would be to wake up one day and find in Williamsburg a culture of markets that is best captured in the sprawling markets in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Telmo. If you like furniture, antique jewelry, street performers or street food, handmade goods, fine art or ______ [name it], you’d be hard-pressed not to find it there. Or think London’s Camden Lock. What makes these places amazing destinations worthy of the masses is that they satisfy the demand from consumers to support all of the individual artists, collectors, food-makers, and entrepreneurs who sell there.

In many ways, what Williamsburg is experiencing – along the waterfront, especially – is a renaissance and a return to history. Markets are the way people purchased and gathered until the beginning of the last century. It is full of nostalgia, curiosity, adventure and fun. Much in the way that there’s something for everyone, there’s a market for all.

Check out. Hang out. Shop @ Artists & Fleas Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar (70 N. 7th Wythe/Kent) and Artists & Fleas “main” (129 N.6th Bedford/Berry) this weekend Saturday & Sunday 12-8pm.

The Birth of Artists & Fleas: 7 Years Ago This Weekend

In 2003, we started Artists & Fleas and promoted it largely through email, grass-roots networks, word of mouth. We’re picking up where we started and sent out an email to friends earlier today. Below is that email.

7 years ago this weekend, Amy and I woke up at the crack of dawn (8am), rolled up a heavy steel warehouse gate and opened the doors to what has become one of the most personally satisfying endeavors of our lives to date.

Artists & Fleas was born of our mutual love of markets, our faith in the human spirit, our commitment to seeing independent people thrive in independent lives, and our desire to bring people together to show, share and interact with each other.

Since first opening that frigid Sunday in December 2003, a lot has changed in Williamsburg, in the world and in our lives. The whole “do-it-yourself” culture has taken off. Creative people have more outlets than ever before to make a living and piece together a lot more than just a modest existence. The definition of “work” has changed so much so that many of our vendors over the years have used the market as their store or their launching pad or their base for experimentation to allow them to do so much more during the 5 other days of the week when they are not selling or hanging out at the market. The boom of markets (flea, food and other), the ubiquity of the “pop-up shop”, the mainstream-ification of those now almost cliche ideas of “curated” and “artisanal and/or bespoke” and “handmade”, the explosion of the whole hand-crafted and indie handmade goods movement (even calling it a movement seems to trivialize it) — these are now part of the norm. And the irony is that many of those influences have roots in places like Williamsburg and in Brooklyn, in general. These are places that are in many ways ground zero for a lot of the creative energy that is incubated before escaping and ultimately making its mark in the form of new trends in food and fashion and design.

But a lot has not changed.

New people come to the market every weekend to try and sell their art or design or clothing or jewelry or collection of kitsch or ephemera. Some come for a day. Some stay for a year. They make connections with customers and other vendors. They come and discover. People respond to things in ways that no one would ever be able to experience if they did not see it happen right in front of their eyes (“Do you have this in silver, instead?” “This sweater reminds me of visits to my grandfather in ____” “I don’t think I will ever find anything like this again.”). There is a vitality and a magic to the market like none other.

If you haven’t been out to Williamsburg in a while or are looking for a fun distraction and place to find some truly one-of-a-kind gifts (you can shop for yourself, it’s okay — we do it all the time), drop by. We’ve been on North 6th Street (between Bedford & Berry) since 2003 and have recently opened an annex, our Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar around the block on North 7th Street (between Wythe & Kent). Each is filled with over 50 amazing artists, designers, collectors and crafters doing their thing. Consider stopping in. You’re destined to discover something and make a memory.

Check out, hang out and shop.

Open Saturday & Sunday, 12-8pm this weekend and next weekend. For more info, visit www.artistsandfleas.com or follow @artistsandfleas on Twitter.

A Letter to Duane and Stumptown

Dear Duane,

I had the chance last week to spend some time at Stumptown Brooklyn and stood in the shadows of the roaster (the person and the machine) and wanted to share a few of my thoughts on the experience. I wanted to do so because, honestly, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

I’m a big believer in the impact that having a physical experience can have on connecting a person to an idea or product or thing. There’s something about doing SOMEthing that makes the whole experience that much more real and profound. I’ve felt it in the past working the line in restaurant kitchens, planting rows of arugula in a field or trying to fix an old Land Cruiser before handing it over to a mechanic who knew what he was doing. In some ways it’s the monotony. In some ways, it’s the physicality of it all. But mostly, it’s the recognition that some things are a lot bigger than you, that they really are a combination of art and science. That’s what I felt watching and listening and inhaling and observing as 80 lb bags of beans got roasted. There is a unmistakably clear craft to the work that goes in to roasting Stumptown beans. I realized that the same craft that goes into roasting also goes into every step in the journey of getting coffee to the end customer – from the planter to the picker to the production facility to the broker and on and on.

I love the magic that happens when all of your senses get a work-out at the hands of a person, place or thing. It’s one of the reasons that I love markets so much. While some people find them to be sensory overload, it’s that assault on your senses – and the opportunity that overwhelming your senses provides me to examine, explore and ultimately connect deeper – that makes me love them so much. For the past few years, as someone intrigued by the world of coffee, eager to learn more about it, a natural-born marketer (philosophically, that is) and one who is curious about people in general, I’ve watched Stumptown grow in popularity in and around Brooklyn and New York and beyond and been curious. I’ve been to the cafes and coffee shops that have come to proudly serve your coffee. And while I have enjoyed it, I have often felt that it is a commodity experience of a commodity product. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just what it is — at it’s simplest and most basic. And while try as they may through all the different things that create a multi-sensory experience to capture the Stumptown ethos and vibe, most cafes are merely just the end point of the coffee journey. Mind you, that is far from a criticism of them. It’s simply the reality.

What I got a glimpse of the other day was a lot more than just another point in the coffee journey. It was the beginnings for me of a real view into the world that you have created, cultivated and shared. In it was the passion, commitment, knowledge and self-awareness that comes with knowing that what I pick up around the corner each morning at ______ is clearly a much bigger force than any one person who has their hand in bringing it to my piece of Brooklyn.

I like to think that it is all about the story. And I got to feel some of that at Stumptown. I hope that others can as well.

Thank you.

Counting Down: 7 Weeks to 7 Years

7 years ago today, I was riding my bike around the Northside after my daily evening swim at the Metropolitan Pool (it was a lot nicer then, having recently undergone a renovation a few years earlier). My mind was free and clear and I was working hard at a job but was feeling a little disconnected from things creative and dynamic. I felt that so much was happening in the neighborhood where I spent the rest of my non-working hours. But I also felt that so much more was possible. Like many folks who lived and hung out in and around Williamsburg in early 2000, the place was much of what makes it attractive to so many and what has become a struggle to maintain today — a neighborhood that was intimate, fiercely independent, welcoming and intensely creative and energizing.

Rewind your Williamsburg clocks to 2003 and consider that the term hipster [now dead] wasn’t quite the mature idea that it now is where you can find hipster ginger-bread cookies in local grocery stores. No shit.

“When we talk about the contemporary hipster, we’re talking about a subcultural figure who emerged by 1999, enjoyed a narrow but robust first phase until 2003, and then seemed about to dissipate into the primordial subcultural soup, only to undergo a reorganization and creeping spread from 2004 to the present.” [Mark Greif, New York Magazine, October 24, 2010]

The main attraction in the neighborhood was Planet Thailand. Matamoros, a bodega on Bedford, had some of the best Mexican food this side of Puebla that the 3 women served up in the back of the store in what would barely pass as a lunch counter. Mikey’s Hook-Up occupied a minuscule outpost inside the Mini-Mall where things were crammed in every which way. And Kelloggs Diner was truly a shithole. But it was good, greasy late night food when you stumbled out of Black Betty’s Afrobeat and funk nights where friends from Antibalas and the many gigs they spawned would regularly hold court.

We wanted to be a part of the scene. We wanted to give something. Loving markets, loving people and eager to help work with independent artists and business owners and entrepreneurs (before that idea became mass-market), we wanted to do it right here in Williamsburg. It was a way to celebrate the local, be a part of the community, and give people a reason to come and enjoy all that we found so inspiring about the neighborhood.

That’s how it started. Before ETSY. Before blogs. Before the market-ification of every thing, space, idea, persona. 7 years ago tomorrow we picked up the phone and called the number on the sign to the guy who, together with his cousin, has been in the family business for longer than he cares to remember. He heard flea market, told us he did street fairs on Long Island and busted our chops a bit because that’s what you did if you grew up on the block. But we met Tony and Paul the next day and they gave us the chance to do something that 7 years later has grown into something special to the thousands of people that have checked out, hung out, shopped or sold or story told at Artists & Fleas.

[Next Week: Calling our friends, getting ready for opening day, going guerilla on the L train platform and never looking back]

The More Things Change, the More They…

We spent yesterday evening under a blissfully clear night sky at East River State Park for OSA Presents Modest Mouse at the Williamsburg Waterfront. The scene, the vibe, the mood, the temperature, the music, the vendors were all AMAZING. We had a rock solid line-up of local artists and designers from the Artists & Fleas community – new and old – some of whom hauled ass back from Renegade Chicago (Susanne from umsteigen, the boys from Gnome Enterprises) to be at the show.

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We were chatting a bit with Monkey who first set up shop fresh out of FIT back in 2004 or 2005 on a rickety old folding table (Monkey – we will find that photo, it’s in our archives) to show off his innovative and uber-cool bracelets re-purposed from old vinyl records. He said something that struck us as blazingly obvious but that somehow gets lost in the hustle and hoopla of the whole digital-DIY-street-fair-marketification-gentrification madness that keeps blasting us all like a fiery furnace: these shows are really one of the best ways for me to connect with my customers, this is where my market is.

We looked down the aisle, at the little pop-up indie artist and designer showcase we’ve had the benefit of bringing to the concerts this Summer (2 more left…Pavement on 9/19! Belle & Sebastian on 9/30!) and the official band merch tent and we couldn’t help but think that despite all the newfangled ways that independent artists and creative types are getting out there to sell, there is nothing like the in-person. There is a special kind of magic that happens when someone picks up a bracelet, tries on a shirt, holds up a hat and the artist who created it is able to stand there and absorb the moment. Some people, like Monkey, like to share the story behind the scene – how they made it, where they found it, what inspired them. Other people, like Tracie from Brooklyn Charm, will occasionally sit back and take it all in, giving people a chance to discover a bit for themselves and offer to help them out along the way (Tracie had these wicked cool mini-harmonica charm necklaces that actually got played).

There is a magic to the markets and a power to the in-person connection. It is undeniable. If you have ever been to Artists & Fleas or any of the other markets that have popped up around the City these past 2 years and explored, you’ve experienced it. And it’s a feeling that just does not get old. Just ask, you’ll hear a story.

[View the slideshow on Flickr and share your own]