The End of an Era... Almost

  • August 31, 2011 20:29

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Amazing Old Master painting from 1550 purchased at the NYC Flea Market

Ever since I moved to New York City in 2002, I have been an early morning (well before dawn) shopper at the flea markets along 6th Avenue.  By the time I had arrived on the scene, and I do mean scene, there were a few different parking lots and an indoor parking garage packed with hundreds of dealers set up selling every imaginable treasure, and some trash, you could ever hope to find.  Celebrities and rarities.  Sure, I was told of the good old days in the 80's and 90's, when there were many more lots and even better choices, but this was my time and I made the most of it.  


I was the new kid on the block and I had to learn the ropes quickly.  Arriving at 3:30 in the morning with flashlight in hand, I was among the group who would pounce on the cars and vans that pulled into the parking lots.  Shoving and pushing among people who five minutes earlier were seen politely having conversation and drinking coffee together, but there are no friendships here.  This is an all out battle for the next big thing to come out of that vehicle.  This flea market lived up to its reputation.  It was the place to find a real ( fill in the blank ) for $50.  It was the place to see ( fill in celebrity name ) shopping for their favorite obsession.  It was the place to learn.  And that is exactly what I did.  But now, let's back up a bit to that snowy day in February of 2002...


I drove my U-Haul packed with whatever belongings I thought were important enough to bring to New York.  Arriving in Alphabet City, Avenue B near 12th Street, I called my dear friend from high school and he came over from his job at a nearby bar (Beauty Bar) and helped me to unpack into the sublet apartment he found for me.  I had the strength of ten thanks to my excitement over being here.  With the truck unpacked and the U-Haul returned, I went back to my new apartment (at least for the next six months) and set my alarm for 3:00am and tried to catch a quick nap.  It was pointless.  So I hailed a taxi and headed to the flea market.  The famous corner address of 26th and 6th (the flea market) and my apartment address were the only two I knew.  That was enough for me.

Fantastic Anatoly Belkin painting purchased at the NYC Flea Market


Walking up to those lots was like walking into a movie.  The city was alive with people going to and coming from night clubs, dinners, premieres, there were delivery trucks and taxi cabs rumbling up the Avenues, and at the flea market there were people with flashlights running from vendor to vendor in hopes of scoring.  So, I jumped right in.  I was amazed to see the deals being struck.  The boxes unpacked.  The tables set up.  It was a well orchestrated chaos.  It was perfect.  There was arguing over who had the item, then over the price, then offers poured in, then it was over and everyone moved on to the next item.  This was repeated countless times in the early hours of the morning.  This was the start of my education.  Luckily, a few dealers clued me in to how the flea market operates.  There were rules...  


There is an unwritten rule book, some of those rules I will share with you now.  Rule #1 - Don't let go!  If you are holding something and you are considering it as a purchase, by no means release your grasp or the next person who is waiting rather impatiently by your elbow will swoop in and scoop it up.  Rule #1a - Don't dilly dally.  Make up your mind quickly.  Rule #2 - Demand 1st Refusal.  If someone is looking at something and you are interested, then you must yell out "I want first refusal".  This will ensure that the other buyer either pulls out his wallet or hands you the item.  This is no time to be shy.  Rule #3 - Be there first.  This one is practically impossible to follow.  What time is early enough?  As I spent more time at the flea market, I realized that some buyers were arriving earlier, much earlier.  So, in order to be there when that great item is brought out, you have to be there early.  

Magnificent XVI Century Della Robbia Style Picture Frame purchased at the NYC Flea Market


And the rules continue, but let's get back to the action.  So the years passed by and during this time I had become known as a serious buyer of antique and period picture frames.  I thought it was best to specialize in one area, then grow from there.  This specialization allowed to me to develop myself as a knowledgeable buyer and create a solid reputation.  Vendors began to hold things for me.  They began to call me the night before to tell me what they were bringing.  I was beginning to support myself from buying and selling at the flea market.  I created a list of clients from the Who's Who of Madison Avenue art galleries.  I would come home from the market some time in the late morning and photograph my purchases.  Then compose emails and send them out to the gallery owners.  I became a reliable source for amazing frames and was honored to be selling them along Madison Avenue.  I would take the subway to my client's galleries loaded with armfuls of frames.  It was definitely a sight to see.  This was the start of a dream come true.  


And this brings us to today.  I've grown my business and expanded into furniture, furnishings, lighting and art.  Now with a booth at Center 44 in Manhattan and a presence on 1stdibs, I have a couple great outlets for selling.  Sure, I'll still throw something over my shoulder and bring it to a client, for this is my true essence.  You can take the girl out of the flea market, but you can't take the flea market out of the girl!  The antiques business is my passion.  Gentrification and high rises have eaten up the outdoor parking lots once home to hundreds of vendors each and every weekend.  The flea market is now relegated to two levels of an indoor parking garage and the clock is ticking.  Sure, it is still one of my most favorite things to do on a weekend, but the writing is on the wall and it's a bittersweet ending.  The parking garage was purchased a few years back for over 40 million dollars.  Surely those developers aren't interested in maintaining the flea market just for us.  The deadline has come and gone several times already and now the flea market is on a month to month lease.  Where everyone will wind up is still unclear.    


New York City is one of the greatest cities in the world and must have a great flea market.  For me, this was the place where I was able to begin my business.  Where I was encouraged to dream of finding a real score and making it big.  Where I've met some of my best clients.  Where I will always have fond memories.  To this day, I can look around my apartment and see things I purchased there years ago.  Each has its own story and memories.  These I will cherish forever.  

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20th Century by HKFA - To the Trade

Fun stories about flea market finds, antique shop treasures and yard sale exclusives! Oh, and then there's the research!

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