By Sabina Mollot
On Saturday, thousands gathered around the Oval for the long-awaited Stuyvesant Town flea market, last held before 9/11.
After the attack on the Twin Towers, management cancelled the annual market, citing homeland security, but then never again held another one. This led many residents to suspect the reason had more to do with the timing as the property was going market rate and the decades-long tradition was suddenly being seen as too low brow.
However, if the event’s comeback crowd was any indication, community members welcomed the opportunity to make a few bucks cleaning out their closets.
There were 510 vendor spots around the Oval, stretching north and south towards the inside of the First Avenue and Avenue C Loop roads. There were also a handful of vendors alongside the 14th Street and 20th Street Loops and even inside Playground 11. There weren’t many no-shows for vendor spaces (two percent according to management’s count), although at least one empty spot this reporter passed by was quickly scooped up by someone with a stash of handbags. It isn’t clear how long this would-be vendor was there though since selling bags was against management’s rules. Other rules, aimed at preventing bedbugs, forbid the sale of clothing and furniture.
Jade Lee, a longtime resident who’d set up her table early, said she’d made lots of sales of books and trinkets within the first hour.
“I just wanted to get rid of things in my apartment but half of it’s gone,” said Lee, who was stationed close to First Avenue.
Next to Lee, a man named Jang Won Suh was setting up prints of flowers drawn in traditional Korean style. The artist was his sister who’d never sold her artwork before. But she wasn’t the only one using the opportunity to launch a line of products before a steady stream of foot traffic. Just a few others included Carolina Prioglio, who was debuting an organic line of skincare products. She and her boyfriend Adrien De Bontin plan to soon start growing their own botanicals like rosemary extracts at an East Village community garden as well as a property his family owns in France.
There was also Adriana Schlarb, who just put together a line of girls’ hair accessories. Jennifer Tamburi, a former resident, was there selling handmade soaps and face scrubs at a table with her mother, Phyllis. Phyllis, who still lives on the property, was selling her own handmade beaded jewelry. She’ll soon be sharing her jewelry making skills by teaching a class for seniors at the Stuy Town Community Center.
“I always tell my students if you make it, you don’t have to go to Macy’s,” she said. “You can make earrings for your friends — and nice ones.”
At another table near the fountain, a woman was selling random things from her bedroom to raise money for Women Build. The project, organized by Habitats for Humanity, is aimed at building a house and giving it to a low-income single woman and her family. Mariah Jaffe, who was involved in the effort, explained that as one of the volunteer builders, she’d committed to raising $1,000 to go towards tools and building materials.
Some of the other tables showcased all new items like watches or “fidget spinners,” a new toy that’s aimed at helping kids stay focused. However, most people were selling things they’d been accumulating since the last community flea, from their kids’ old toys to DVDs to stacks of books.
Longtime resident Peg Donohoe, after buying a collapsible toy truck for a dollar, said she used to vend at the flea markets of years past.
“I sold a lot of things people threw out when they moved away,” she said. “I picked things out of the trash and stored them and I would make hundreds of dollars for things that were not even mine. In the old days people threw out good things like bakelite jewelry. I would say ‘Make me an offer.’ They would say, ‘Is $40 okay?’ I would have sold it for $4 because I didn’t know what I had.”
Meanwhile, based on the responses of people interviewed by T&V, when it came to those who had the best luck selling, the reason was usually location, location, location.
Inas Taher, selling hand-knitted and crocheted items as well as sachets and soaps, was stationed outside Five Stuy Café. “I came down yesterday and found my spot. We’re blessed,” she said.
Another vendor seemed to think being close to the property’s entrances was preferable to being in the center, where she was. But despite her table being between the Oval and Playground 12, she wasn’t complaining.
“It’s a great way for the community to come together,” said Pat White, who was selling office supplies and other items, including a decorative bird cage. “And,” she added, “The weather could not have been more beautiful.” (Throughout the duration of the event, the temperature was in the 70s with sunny skies, with no evidence of the previous night’s thunderstorm.)
At Playground 11, another vendor said business seemed better outside the playground, even for vendors with higher prices for similar goods to her own. “I’m in a cage,” joked Jill Pratzon. “But,” she added, “I love it. I’m just glad it’s back because the year we moved in, they stopped doing it.”
Closer to the First Avenue Loop, Norma Eicher, seated with her daughter, said she’d done well-selling board games. “They’re flying,” she said, adding that board games seem to have gained popularity with the college crowd, “even in this age of technology. I was surprised.” For Eicher the timing of the flea market was serendipitous because she’d just moved back to Stuyvesant Town after living for a while on the Upper East Side. “I really missed the flea market,” she said. “My friend was joking, ‘In your honor they brought it back.’”
Jo-Ann Polise, also near the First Avenue Loop, said she had done okay selling artwork and a few other household items. “I’m not going to retire on it, but if it helps me get rid of a few things, that’s fine,” she said. “I’m glad they brought it back. It doesn’t matter what you sell or don’t sell.”
While strolling around the event, Rick Hayduk, Stuy Town’s general manager, said overall the event was going smoothly, with only the occasional rule breaker selling banned items.
“This is as much about community as it is about commerce,” said Hayduk. “I can’t imagine the last time this many residents were out socializing.”
Meanwhile, management was learning as it went along. For example, the day before the event, employees went around marking each space’s number with chalk. After the rain washed those efforts away, employees were out again in the morning to mark each spot with a small card.
Fortunately for all the vendors who didn’t sell everything they lugged outside by the end of the event, a Goodwill truck was on sight to accept donations. Additionally, according to Hayduk, donation boxes will soon be set up around the property for regular pickups.
Management guessed that roughly 2,000-3,000 people were at the event and later said based on tenant feedback, there would be more flea markets in Stuy Town’s future.
Kelly Vohs, the property’s new chief operations officers, said, “It was a great day where we saw our community come together and that is something that we will certainly make sure we do again.”