“Artists Flock to Fleas”

City’s artisans and shoppers return to a simpler way

by Iyana Robertson

Every weekend, some of the city’s trendiest people head to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Artists and Fleas, a flea market that is the home of some of the coolest artsy finds and stylish vintage clothing. Before even reaching the market on North 6th Street, the neighborhood sets the eclectic mood with its residents being some of the most fashionable in the borough.

Upon entry, shoppers are greeted with cool graphic T-shirts, notebooks made from board games and a plethora of accessories, most of which sparkling as they attract the eye. The space, a sort of “dream garage,” is filled with tables and racks placed closely together, where vendors set up shop.

Divided into two, one side of Artists and Fleas houses more original works and products, like photography, cosmetics and clothing for dogs while the other side is filled with vintage clothing and delectable treats.

New Market Trends

Artists and Fleas is part of a trend in the flea market scene in which more and more artists are selling their original, eclectic art and fashions. More and more in recent years, New Yorkers are traveling the city, finding dozens of markets that are home to hundreds of vendors each, selling things from handmade clothing and jewelry, to a recent flea market favorite: food.

While sharing vintage items still remains characteristic to these markets, a shift to marketing avant-garde artistry seems to be occurring. Many independent artists are choosing to sell their work in the flea market environment as opposed to the traditional retail store.

Few people, flea market consumers included, have any idea who organizes the very markets they faithfully make their ways to on Saturdays and Sundays. Seven years ago, Ronen Glimer and his wife Amy Abrams started Artists and Fleas. With the prospect that “there was so much talent and cool stuff right here in Brooklyn but that many artists, designers and collectors didn’t necessarily have a venue where they could come together and sell,” Glimer and his wife spearheaded what is now a neighborhood gem.

From the very moment of entering Artists and Fleas, it’s evident that the vendors and shoppers have close relationships, dually appreciated by each other’s participation in a movement of mutual devotion. Glimer described the market as a “destination.”

Artists and Fleas’ Role

Remaining very true to a set of values that emphasize artistic skill and local production (one rule in particular forbids importing), Artists and Fleas has experienced what Glimer calls “smart, organic, healthy growth.” What he attributes to this growth is the character of Williamsburg in particular.

According to Glimer, the neighborhood culture sets his market apart because “it attracts trend-setters and edgier designers, whereas the other markets we’ve visited have many of the same merchants and a lot of the aesthetic and design feels a bit more mainstream.”

He also credits the growth of flea markets in general to a plethora of influences: “the popularity of the whole DIY movement/a return to simplicity, the influence of technology, the popularity of entrepreneurship, local shopping and perhaps even backlash to the big-box retail thing.” A combination of environment and a shift of ideals are what seem to be pushing Artists and Fleas and flea markets as a whole, into the forefront.

Heading to “Leroy’s Place”

New to the flea market scene, artist Serene Bacigalupi is now a regular vendor at Artists and Fleas. Developed in June 2010, her company, “Leroy’s Place,” carries works of art that are funky and fun.

One of Bacigalupi’s current artistic endeavors is the makeover. Composed of “really boring, crappy old prints that nobody wants,” she seeks to reinvent the mundane with the inclusion of cartoon monsters. Experiencing her work jolts a child-like sense of imagination and easily generates a smile.

Shoppers enjoy Baciagalupi's fun art.

As a new artist, Bacigalupi cites the flea market scene as a contributor to her development as an artist. “I’m very attached to my work and I get to see where each of my little guys goes,” she said. “You get a sense of what people like and that really helps give a gage of the market… it has a lot of integrity.”

Bacigalupi also credits the flea market with allowing businesspeople to be “independent and have control over their own lives as opposed to working for someone else, which is just not as good of a deal as it was.”

Looking toward the future, Ronen Glimer of Artists and Fleas has some really exciting things ahead. “We cannot tell… but we are excited to be moving the market to a new location, an amazing warehouse space that we’re just putting the finishing touches on,” he said. “It really speaks to the ability to give vendors what they want and need to have a pop-up shop in Brooklyn.”

Video: Shoppers Speak Out

In addition to the idealistic forces that have driven the flea market trends, one simple component of the attraction is the shopping atmosphere. Differing in many ways from experiences in malls and well-known stores, shopping at flea markets has an entirely different feel.

The Flea: Experience from Iyana Robertson on Vimeo.