The old adage "one man's trash is another man's treasure," has never proved truer than at the Brooklyn Flea Market. As a first-time visitor, I envisioned endless tables strewn with old odds and ends, racks of vintage dresses, and hip Brooklynites brewing fair-trade coffee. While I found all of these, I also experienced the infectious buzz found in this hive of passionate vendors. The Flea, which reopened its outdoor Fort Greene location last Saturday, draws over 150 local and regional vendors to set up shop annually. They offer an eclectic mix of rare and homemade wares, ranging from retro typewriters to handcrafted bicycles. Since its founding in April 2008, the Flea has grown immensely, financially stimulating entrepreneurs and small businesses alike, and attracting both locals and tourists to spend the day shopping and eating to their hearts' content. The real beauty of the Flea lies in its ability to bridge the gap between vendor and customer, allowing for a true community spirit to blossom. Making my way through the maze of booths, I found myself drawn to a table piled high with vintage purses and pocketbooks, where I met none other than the self-described "bag ladies" of the Flea: Maryann Schlesinger and Gerri Riedman, best friends since seventh grade. Schlesinger developed a passion for collecting one-of-a-kind accessories in her teens, while Riedman became interested in American-made pottery and colorful depression glass in college in the early 1970s. The pair agreed that there came a point of accumulation when they knew it was time to start selling. Fortunately, customers welcomed their vintage pieces with open arms—and wallets. "The variety of things being sold is as complex as the people that buy. People are into vintage today. They are learning to mix it with more modern styles, creating a special look," Schlesinger said. The Flea has proven the perfect outlet to showcase a collection of pieces as timeless as their friendship. As we chatted, the women reminisced about their days spent together at Woodstock in 1969, and Schlesinger called it "the best time of [her] life." "If you believe in universal connection, for me that was the experience I had," Schlesinger said. "Total freedom, plenty of great pot, and most of all, the most amazing music. Think about seeing Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, all in one place over a three-day period. That can never be duplicated." The bonds that Schlesinger has formed with her customers over the years also stand the test of time. While she has met many "wonderful and interesting" people from all over the world, she said that the most memorable relationship was formed with a young woman named Hazell. "She bought some things from me, and I gave her a hankie as a gift. I recommended the book 'The Secret' to her. We just connected. She came back to me last summer and told me that I changed her life. I was overwhelmed," Schlesinger said. "There were plenty of hugs and tears. A simple chat between two women changed her life." Spotting a pastel-dyed tote, I strolled over to inspect it more closely. I was surprised to learn that Ryan Greer, owner and designer of Flux productions, entirely hand-makes his line of screen-printed T-shirts and leatherwear. In true Brooklyn fashion, Greer transports his pieces to the Flea straight from his studio a few blocks away via bike. "There's a real sense of people coming from the neighborhood. They're your neighbors, you know them, they come, and they see what you make," Greer said. Other vendors find inspiration in their travels, bringing back a hand-curated selection of curiosities to share—such as John Zaso and Keith Lowery, the duo behind the fledgling home décor booth Hunters & Gatherers. With shelves displaying framed butterflies, alligator heads, and "any antler horn in the book," they might just succeed in turning taxidermy chic. As visual display artists in national showrooms, Zaso and Lowery always dreamed of opening their own shop. When the economic downturn led them to seek other means of exposure aside from "brick and mortar stores," they found a home at the Flea. "This environment is like being in a traveling carnival. You become a family," Zaso said. It was hard to ignore the infectious laugh from a few booths over. Following the echo, I found the resident Brit of the bunch, Yvonne Potter, who has attracted prominent buyers with her carefully curated selection of vintage costume jewelry, couture, and objets d'art. Potter found her way into the business by way of her mother, Maria Rush, a well-known antique dealer in Londonís Portobello Road for over 40 years. As a child, she accompanied her to thousands of auctions, flea markets, estate sales, and thrift stores, building her knowledge by learning from and listening to other dealers. "Launching a business in America has been an easy process," Potter, who lives in an 1840s cottage in the Berkshires with her husband David H. Potter, said. "It's been incredibly rewarding reaping the rewards of selling items I have memories of purchasing in Paris, Lille, Boston, Nottingham, Prague, and London in the 1980s and 1990s before wearing vintage was even acceptable." In light of America's recent obsession with period romps such as "Mad Men," Potter has her sights set on mod metallic, knee-length lace, sheer mini-dresses, and pill box hats from the late 1960s to early 1970s. She follows the trends "religiously" in order to outfit her customers—a mélange of fashion stylists, hipsters, collectors, socialites, and trendsetters—in the best fashion that eras past have to offer. As a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in New York, and with more and more period films being made in Manhattan, Potter envisions her future in the field of freelance sourcing for lead costume designers. "As vintage dealers, we're all very creative. This is our blood. This is how we make our blood and bread money and pay the rent," Potter said. "We need to be on top of things before, you, the buyer get to the shop." One such buyer, American model Amber Rose, regularly stops by her booth to try on extra-large, 1960s, semi-precious stone Afghan cuffs. And crimson-haired crooner Florence, from Florence and the Machine, came by late last summer. Potter asked her to sing "God Save the Queen" in exchange for a discount on a vintage pair of 1980s nautical cruise-ship loungewear. "She did, and she did it beautifully," Potter said. I said goodbye to Potter, preparing to head out, when I stumbled upon a booth that left me nostalgic in the best possible way. Dan's Parent's House consists of a quirky hodgepodge of toys and memorabilia sold by Dan Treiber, who "lives by the Flea." While on tour with the label he runs, Crafty Records, Treiber spent months fixing up his childhood home in City Island. He soon realized that he could make some extra cash by parting with his "stuff," a large part of which consists of Star Wars figurines that die-hard fans could not resist. I may not be one of them, but I admit, I came dangerously close to shelling out over a hundred for a life-sized wooden rendition of Eloise at the Plaza. Three years later, Treiber finds himself balancing fatherhood to five-month old twins with his wife, artist Reina Mia Brill, and successfully running both his record label and his booth at the Flea. At the Flea, he is known especially for his Star Wars figurines and memorabilia, but now that heís more established, Trieber says that people come to him with objects from their childhood as well. "I have never been more excited. We get to raise two happy babies, sell nostalgia for a living, and occasionally make art," Treiber said." I love how excited people get when they come in my booth with a huge smile on their face and pick up a certain object. The stories people tell rarely get old." I left the Flea with a few unexpected treasures, a full stomach, and a smile. En route back to the Upper West Side, I felt lucky to have spent my Saturday afternoon in the company of people who genuinely love what they do and where they work. As Treiber said, "They have created a space where I can set up and sell to 5,000 people or so a day on the weekend. I am able to raise twins, pay a mortgage, and still enjoy every day because of them. They have set up a community that I am thankful to be a part of." The Brooklyn Flea Market is held every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 176 Lafayette Ave. On Sundays, the Flea takes is at the East River Waterfront between North 6th and 7th Street. The vendors differ depending on the location.
Zara Castany / Senior Staff Photographer