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eographically, the Brooklyn Flea—a curated flea market—sits in Brooklyn in an area called Dumbo (short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). The building lies on a cobblestone street, the clutter of people surrounding it indicative of the clutter to be found inside. Various vendors set up their vintage, antique, and re-purposed goods for sale to the multitude of people who visit each weekend. Some people come to shop, while others come simply to wander; yet, from the crowds, it is clear that the flea market is popular among many. In a more metaphorical sense, Brooklyn Flea’s location is far more complex. The market, it seems, straddles the delicate space between the past and the future. This present is a purgatory of sorts, a place where antique and vintage goods sit between their two lives. These items are alive with history, some with known stories and lore behind them and some with stories one can only imagine. However, their narratives do not stop here; rather, these goods sit at the Flea in anticipation of their future environments—the life they will continue to live. Shoppers and vendors flock to the Flea for a multitude of reasons, including quality, environmental, and economic concerns. Ever-present among these motives, however, is a sense of time and authenticity. Because the goods are antiques—and because they have stood the test of time—patrons perceive an inherent value in them. This value is what makes the Brooklyn Flea at once interesting, complex, and unique.



urchasing antique and vintage goods can often prove economical. Antique items are commonly less expensive than their modern counterparts for a number of reasons. First, these goods sometimes show signs of wear or use. Second, the items are not produced anew; rather, antiques vendors purchase them cheaply from estates, find them at no price, or are given the items by families of the deceased. The vendors are then able to charge a reasonable price for the items, as they do not need to recoup the cost of production. Of course, the economic value of an item at the flea market depends on what type of item it is. For example, shoppers looking for designer or name-brand items, such as original Eames furniture, may not find incredibly cheap items, as these goods may be limited in availability and therefore come at a premium. However, those who are not concerned with the brand of their purchase, but rather with its allure, will be happy to find a number of affordable items that are often quite inexpensive. Generally speaking, items purchased at flea markets are less expensive than similar items bought brand new at retail—and have the added appeal of a unique history.


Left Page: Antiques at the Flea demonstrate economic value Right Page: Typography found throughout the market

-Mike Albo, NY Times



he Brooklyn Flea attracts shoppers who are in search for not only merchandise, but also a sense of community. A sense of camaraderie among the vendors at Brooklyn Flea is incredibly apparent. When asked about why they enjoy the Brooklyn Flea, most of the vendors mentioned the relationships they have developed with other vendors. The Flea has allowed them to find others with interests similar to their own. Moreover, many of the vendors at Brooklyn Flea have initiated and maintained relationships with their customers. They are able to formulate such relationships through their mutual appreciation for antiques. Customers also use the Brooklyn Flea as a social venue, often perusing the market with friends, some even without the intention of buying. The market attracts many of Brooklyn’s creative inhabitants, who enjoy the market as a fun, unique atmosphere. When interviewed by the New York Times, Brooklyn Flea co-founder Jonathan Butler observed, “There’s a kind of do-ityourself ethos here, with a lot of young, creative people who like to look around for bargains.” Perhaps most interesting is the bond to a larger community that some shoppers feel upon buying an item at the Brooklyn Flea. Many appreciate the antiques they purchase for their inherent relation to humankind and the (often unknown) story of the people who once owned these objects.

A young boy explores items at the Flea

Typography found throughout the market


n an age of eco-consciousness, the Brooklyn Flea takes on new significance. Items from the past are praised for not only their unique histories, but also their eco-friendly attributes. Reusing or repurposing antique and vintage items reduces waste in a number of ways. First, it decreases the number of items being discarded, as these items are purchased for new uses rather than thrown away. In some cases, these new uses are consistent with the items’ original uses, such as with the purchase of a camera. In other instances, however, shoppers find new and innovative uses for these items—for example, turning an antique phone into an iPod base, as one recent shopper at the Brooklyn Flea did. Reusing antique items is also earth-friendly because it lessens the number of new goods being produced. As production uses energy and resources, such reduction is a welcome change for the environment.


Left Image: Vintage shoes help customers reduce waste by reusing existing items Right Image: An antique children’s toy finds new life at the Flea

Left Page: Antique seltzer bottles harken back to a time before disposable plastic Right Page: Typography found throughout the market

A telephone, silk bow ties, and antique brooches are just some of the highquality items available at the Brooklyn Flea


nother reason the Brooklyn Flea attracts so many buyers is the high quality of antique goods. Often, the materials used to produce these items are significantly more durable and long-lasting than those of current-day wares. For example, goods were often made from metal, rather than plastic, or natural, rather than man-made, materials. That these items are still available and functioning is perhaps a testament to this quality. Many buyers look to these items with nostalgia for a time in which attention to detail and an appreciation for craftsmanship were highly valued. Still others bet on the items’ quality as an indicator of the goods’ future value for resale.


Left Page: A vintage telephone shows fine craftsmanship Right Page: Typography found throughout the market


any people are drawn to flea markets for the inherent uniqueness of the items sold there. Whereas the current shopping environment of chain stores and mass production commonly fosters an atmosphere of sameness and uniformity, shoppers at the flea market are often able to find items that are not available elsewhere. As these items are no longer in production, there is a limited number of them available. Similarly, antiques’ previous usage ensures that each piece is different than the next one; the worn feel each item projects differentiates it from the next, creating a one-of-a-kind item.


An antique mannequin is one of the many unique items for sale at the Flea

Typography found throughout the market


nother incredibly compelling reason to shop at Brooklyn Flea is the inherent historical narrative the objects on sale convey. Whereas conventional shopping feels superficial, buying antiques can often feel more meaningful, as it consists not only in the object itself, but in the stories and people associated with the object. Such history allows buyers to feel a deeper connection to and intrigue from the items they buy. Antiques also often evoke a feeling of nostalgia. They can reflect simpler times, memories of one’s childhood, or interest in former generations. The owner may feel as though he or she is preserving a lost part of the past by purchasing the item. Similarly, a shopper contributes to an item’s ongoing story by creating a “new life” for the antique—a life that may be incredibly different than its original purpose.


Antique keys covered in rust reveal a potent history

Typography found throughout the market


hough shoppers come to Brooklyn Flea for a host of different reasons, the resulting environment is at once infectious, exciting, and unmistakably unique. The Flea showcases many antique and vintage items—items that exist not just as vestiges of times past, but rather, as vivacious and vibrant harbingers of lives to come. Beneath the piles of unfound treasures lies a complex web of questions and narratives. Where have these items been? What have they witnessed? Where will they end up? Who are the people they will attract as buyers, and why? In exploring these items so potent with history, Brooklyn Flea patrons perhaps discover more about themselves and their companions. In the process, the items themselves give way to something much larger: the experience as a whole. It is this experience that draws so many people to the Flea, leading them to look not only for merchandise, but also for a bit of themselves. And that, it seems, is the greatest commodity of all.


Albo, Mike. “Come Shop in Their Backyard,” The New York Times. 5 February 2009. Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks Publishers, 1992. Hochuli, Jost and Robin Kinross. Designing Books: Practice and Theory. London: Hyphen Press, 1996. Kugel, Seth. “For Those Obscure Objects You Might Really Need,” The New York Times. 30 March 2008. Ohrstrom, Lysandra. “Sign of the Times: High-End Brooklyn Flea Market Readies for Debut,” The New York Observer. 26 March 2008. Proeller, Marie (text). Decorating with Flea Market Finds. Ed. Country Living Magazine. New York: Hearst Books, 2002. Shelby, Joyce. “Colassal Flea Market Grabs Fort Greene,” The New York Daily News. 25 March 2008. Tolley, Emelie and Chris Mead. Flea Market Style: Decorating with a Creative Edge. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1998. Trebay, Guy. “Scavengers on the Urban Savannah,” The New York Times. 13 April 2008.


Brooklyn Flea  

Book design for a flea market based in Brooklyn.

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