Flea Markets, Pop-Up Shops & the Army of Gypsy Nation Purveyors

The pop-up shop. That “limited time only” fortress of I-gotta-have-it-now retail therapy that seemed to gain more and more momentum these past couple of years until even big box retailers started doing it. Love it or hate it, pop ups are one of the greatest compromises in retail trends to emerge from the obnoxiously skyrocketing rents that were being extorted from enterprising indie boutique starters from SoHo to Silver Lake. A bit lost in the pop up shuffle was the notion that your weekend flea market has long served the need for an alt retail experience. While Brooklyn Flea’s mass media marketing muscle undoubtedly helped give the centuries’ old flea market thing a bit more currency, lifting the profile of some salvagers from the proverbial trash heap to membership in the more rarified cultural elite of upcyclers, the fact is that for those folks who have long been connected to that roving community of vintage obsessed hunters and gatherers, markets are their home.

Markets are the grand daddy of the pop up. And in that rich history are 2 people in our community whose provenance, sense of cultural relevance and command of the cool and the hustle is without parallel or peer.


Ricky Becker (pictured top), proprietor of Spooky Boutique, is no stranger to the world of stylists, vintage enthusiasts and lovers of fashion. His bona fides in the New York City vintage scene reads like a tenured Columbia sociologist with Becker racking up the years at many of the City’s hallowed institutions and a rolodex to show for it. He takes styling seriously and his love of fashion, the art of the fit and the magic of pulling it all together shows.

Gypsy Nation Vintage is Martha Camarillo’s immaculately conceived love child. And it’s a love like no other. A working photographer who regularly shoots around the world for some of those big glossy magazines and even your downhome New Yorker Magazine, Martha is tireless in her devotion to finding the good stuff (see photo above). She knows her shit and is practiced in the art and skill of merchandising and the craft of the deal. Artists & Fleas has been home to Gypsy Nation for 2 years running, serving as a Brooklyn outpost for her loyal followers from across the blogosphere, the fashion world and the cachet Manhattan crowds who get a taste of it at the Pier or Manhattan Vintage shows but want more, more, more. More is what she’s got.



Just Grillin': 3 Burger Tips for Your 4th of July

A departure of sorts from our traditional Friday dispatch featuring newbies (this week’s include some colorful collections care of Albertini Addiction and ShanideCleo) in honor of the holiday weekend.

We’re lucky to have grillmaster Dan Petersen whose That Burger Tent has graced us with his fine Pat LaFrieda blend of beef and killer portobello burgers since the start of the Spring. This is Dan’s holiday. We asked him for his 3 tips for successful barbecuing this weekend.

  1. Medium rare is king [We love the thumb-to-index finger trick to check the temperature of your meat]
  2. Splurge on good meat cause the best of a burger isn’t in the toppings, it’s the burger itself
  3. Let That Burger Tent take care of your grilling needs

While Dan is not making a special 4th of July BBQ blend (not this year, at least), drop in and get a taste Saturday and Sunday. Or invite yourself to the burger man’s backyard BBQ and see how the magic happens.


Bird, the ‘Burg & Jen Mankins’ Brooklyn-based Bet

This is the first of 5 feature pieces in our series on Retail Alchemy 101, a weekly Wednesday feature for the retail, indie fashion and entrepreneurial-marketing inspired set.

So much has been said and written and video’d and blogged about Jen Mankins, the polite visionary behind Brooklyn-based Bird, a no-joke powerhouse purveyor of smart styles, fashion hip and chic. Adding to this list with another deep-dive or tribute seems daunting at best, potentially redundant at worst. But there is something that has not been said over the 2 years that Bird’s Williamsburg mecca first took off. With the gutsy move to expand her chainlet in 2009 to a fast-changing strip of retail on Grand Street, off Bedford and south of the psychological divide that once was Metropolitan Avenue, Mankins staked her position in the pantheon of indie shops in New York City by going Brooklyn.

It used to be that location was the sole driver of a business’s lifeblood. Or perceived as such. Everyone has that elderly family member coaxing him or her to consider location, location, location. But today’s emboldened entrepreneurs are fast demonstrating that you can make a name for yourself by going where no other has gone. Or, so far in the life of Bird, by choosing NOT to go where others have gone.

So far Bird’s bets seem to have paid off with high-profile collaborations with J. Crew’s Madewell and the loyal shoppers able to get their Rachel Comey, Isabel Marant, Steven Alan or Band of Outsiders fix without having to leave the borough.

[photo credit: @eqx1979 via Flickr]


Retail Alchemy 101

What’s the recipe for retail success if you’re an independent retailer striking out on your own? There are at least a dozen variables – some that you can control, most that no one can really control. Location. Merch mix. Price point. Traffic. Density. Timing. Trends. The marketplace. And that elusive pixie dust that comes from a certain type of customer and thrill-seeker who likes the discovery of that off-the-beaten-path retail thrill [hint: think Opening Ceremony on Howard Street circa 2005] before the masses discover it. And location.

Crain’s recently thrashed (or lamented depending on your perspective) the boom-and-bust goings on of the Lower East Side fashion boutiques in a piece earlier this week. Racked picked up the piece (“Can’t a Boutique Survive on the LES Anymore?“) and the comments found there were a lot more interesting than Crain’s thin reporting. All of which got us thinking about the changes we have seen over the years in retail in general and in Williamsburg, specifically — as avid shoppers, shop-keeps, market-makers and general fans of social theories on why people buy. A lot of these changes come from some of the reaction trends in shopping and retail. Things like pop-up shops, retail collectives, flash sales and the knee-jerk reaction to online shopping.

Beginning next Wednesday, we’re going to do a deep dive into these trends, picking and choosing some of the stores, boutiques, entrepreneurs and innovators who are making things happen in new ways in retail. We encourage you to jump in, join in the conversation, state your piece, opine or tweet.


A Perfect 10 Williamsburg Weekend

Fan-freakin’-tastic weekend all around the ‘Burg between the start of Northside Festival, CrestFest, Williamsburg Walks (just to name a few) and just a delightful weekend of back-to-back rocking weather days. Shout-out to Simon from Pigeon Be Pigeon for representing the whole family of artists and designers at A&F on Bedford Avenue for the Walks. We ran into tons of old friends which, we suppose, is part of the point of converting Bedford into a pedestrian mall.

Thanks @mollsrawks for some amazing shutterbuggery!


Crest Fest Your Head Off

2 years ago we got acquainted with Joe Franquinha as he embarked on reinvigorating Crest Fest and the Crest Hardware Art Show — his father’s decades-long commitment to the community of artists and makers in Williamsburg and Bushwick and North Brooklyn in general. We brought a bunch of artists and designers from the Artists & Fleas family and made a ton of new friends (damn, we wish we had those priceless picture of Greenpoint Food Market phenom and girl-about-town Joann Kim in her early days of slinging sweets and treats on the sidewalk outside Macri Park). It was the start of something big.

Joe and his crew are promising an even bigger show starting this Saturday at 1pm. A bunch of our friends including artists Matt Shapoff (Handmade on Peconic Bay) and Travis Simon (photo above) are going to be participating in this art show-music festival-all around good time in the neighborhood. Make a point of checking out the show as you hang out in the ‘Burg this weekend. We’ll see you there.

Brooklyn by Bike

On the final weekend before the arrival of the new East River Ferry (service officially started today), we pause to remember the only other way you could possibly feel some of those seabreezes and ocean spray, albeit from several hundred feet up while crossing the Williamsburg Bridge.

Pedi-peeps and bike fans out there, send us your favorite shot of 1, 2 or 3-wheeled action and joy. They’re (usually) inspiring to look at.

Brooklyn Hunting, Indie Exploring & Flea Finding

We say it so much that it just might be time to get that tat on one of our backsides that says it: the thrill of the kill happens best at the market. With all eyes on Williamsburg this weekend, let this be your guide to a wonderful world of discovery as your cruise the streets, the parks, the pubs and take it all in. We’ve got your flavor e v e r y where.

Hunters & Gatherers is an apt name for the passion project of Keith Lowery and John Zaso that combines vintage kitsch with an almost child-like fascination with the natural world (see below). Whether it’s porcupine quills, a 1960s brass bottle opener or a reclaimed pair of Canadian moose antlers, there’s always some room for a touch of class in your life, isn’t there? Saturday

Winged Inspiration also takes her cues from the natural world framing butterflies, moths, insects, beetles and other creatures of middle earth for a mix of wearable art and hangable art. There’s a touch of edge to this slice of nature – consider yourselves warned. Saturday


Grow up in the valley of the sun, spend some time on the catwalks and runways (clearly out of the sun) and you’ve got a combination that is combustible and lethally cool. Britt By Britt brings it this weekend to the ‘Burg with a super tight collection of jewels and accessories, dreamcatchers and some style pieces. These have the potential for a cult-like following. Saturday

Renata Mann Designs is not looking to be anyone’s guru. She’s just a cool designer from the neighborhood that builds – literally constructing each piece by hand – jewelry and accessories using textiles, fabrics, patterns, threads and more. We dig coming across new folks from the nabe who have been doing their thing for a while and are setting up their pop-up shop. Renata’s been out there and now she’s here (lead photo above). Saturday

Get Broken Record literally guarantees that your precious vinyl and Fab Four obsession can have a shelf life that is virtually infinite by making art on old LPs. While it doesn’t have to be old to be a classic, artist and music enthusiast Kevin Kelly has found a way to make the hits last. We’ve got to get him to check out some of the waterfront concert action, no doubt. Saturday

20th Avenue Studios is as much a place where artist and sculptor Frank Saliani lets his hands roam free and run wild as it is a place where his imagination turns clay and stone into objects that are functional, sublime or out of the ordinary. Sometimes they can even be all 3. He runs the art fair circuit and this is Frank’s debut with this crowd – should be fun for all involved. Sunday

If you’re swinging through Billyburg on Saturday, make sure to check out the Renegade Craft Festival at McCarren Park before dropping in on the free Coheed and Cambria show at the Williamsburg Waterfront — the summer is officially here. Bring it baby!

They’re Here: Williamsburg Waterfront Concerts

Artists & Fleas @ OSA Presents: At The Williamsburg Waterfront is an exciting collaboration with North Brooklyn’s NY Parks Department organization the Open Space Alliance of North Brooklyn (OSA) and OSA Presents. Now in its second season along the Williamsburg Waterfront, the concert series has a memorable past originating in the early 2000s at McCarren Pool where it was known as the Pool Parties and played host to many headlining bands. The current series will return to the East River State Park along the Williamsburg waterfront and will have programming to include a wide range of musical acts and entertainment including several free shows throughout the season.

Artists & Fleas’ participation in the 2011 concert series is an opportunity to showcase several local emerging and newly-established artists, designers and crafters. Every show will have a rotating presentation of 5 Brooklyn-based artists and artisans to give concert-goers a unique opportunity to participate in the independent Williamsburg experience and take it back home with them.

Confirmed shows include:

  • Saturday, June 11: Coheed & Cambria [FREE Show]
  • Sunday, June 19: Children’s Show: Story Pirates with Moey’s Music Party [FREE Show]
  • Friday, June 24: Thievery Corporation
  • Wednesday, July 6: Kid Cudi
  • Friday, July 22: Death From Above 1979
  • Friday, July 29: Eugene Mirman with Special Guests They Might Be Giants
  • Tuesday, August 2: Death Cab for Cutie
  • Friday, August 12: Sonic Youth
  • Wednesday, August 31: Bright Eyes
  • Thursday, September 8: TV on the Radio
  • Saturday, September 17: Widespread Panic

For a complete list of concerts or ticket info, visit the events page on the OSA website. For information on how to participate as a vendor, please visit the Become A Vendor page above.


A Williamsburg (Love) Affair: Part 1

I remember the first time I set foot in Williamsburg. It was December 1992, I lived in Morningside Heights and I was of age when thrift shops were the rage. I was going to one-up my outings to Alice Underground, Andy’s Cheepees, the Antique Boutique and the other shops that made up the pantheon of vintage shops in Manhattan and go for the gold at Domsey’s Warehouse in Williamsburg.

I knew nothing of the neighborhood, little of the people that lived there, barely an inkling of where it was on the map beyond the fact that a subway token and an hour and half would get me there.

The L train wasn’t even on my radar back then. And thinking back on it, I was glad to have hopped the J/M/Z because what it gave me was perspective. It allowed the Manhattan skyline to be dwarfed as the train rode – extremely slowly, wearily and warily – over the Williamsburg Bridge. When I walked down Broadway, I felt like I was in a time warp but an era that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The City was still covered in grafitti. Giuliani had yet to come to power and New York was trying to climb out of a dark hole where unemployment, gang violence and a restlessness of a City still beaten down from the previous decade reigned.


I don’t even recall what I managed to score at the store. I didn’t even make it to the “clothing by the pound” section until I was down to my last few dollars for subway fare and a snack. But I remember the walk. Broadway to South 8th Street to Wythe.

I recently walked that stretch again. It’s a far cry from what it was, for sure. Yet it would seem silly to lament the changes in the neighborhood. Or neighborhoods. So many folks, like myself, are freaks for nostalgia. But many also harbor certain delusions of what once was. Domsey’s was fun as hell. But it was also sad and depressing and a dump. [Unfortunately little has been done in the past several years to the site but that will soon change. Inevitably.]

Thinking back to it, I didn’t make it back to Brooklyn until later than Spring when I was invited to a house party in Prospect Heights. I knew nothing of the neighborhood then either. In my mind, however, Williamsburg was Brooklyn. It was certainly a different Williamsburg then but not a different Brooklyn.