Over the many years of our friendship, Elisa and I have spent more time shopping, picking, sifting, flea-ing and treasure hunting than just about any other activity. Wherever we go, our eyes are always searching for “that thing” we have to have. Of course, Chelsea Girl Vintage has given our acquisitive inclinations a specific focus, but long before there was a store, we were shopping.
New York used to have one of the most dynamic flea market districts in the world which occupied several huge parking lots up 6th Avenue from 23rd street. Going to the market was a weekly ritual for us for about twenty years. Working through the long aisles of jewelry, furniture, vintage clothing, ephemera and random everything was a half-day undertaking, notable not just for the access to interesting objects from around the world, but also for the incredible institutional knowledge of the vendors and some of the best people watching EVER! Running into friends and seeing downtown celebrities like Fred Schneider of the B-52s, Debbie Harry or designers like Betsy Johnson was inevitable. A rich sense of community prevailed and both and Elisa and I learned a tremendous amount from those years.
During the horrible 1990s, when the Guiliani administration sold out the city to developers, the parking lots that hosted the flea market were bulldozed and replaced by a soulless corridor of residential towers that now pockmark the avenue. All that remains of our once thriving flea market community is one indoor garage on 25th street, but the need to connect, to shop and kibbitz is tenatious. Much of the flea market energy has migrated to Brooklyn, where real estate is less valuable and artists can still afford to live. It’s sad how prosperity can drain the soul out of a city, leaving behind a lot of shitty architecture and thousands of dull people who work in finance and wouldn’t know the difference between a flea market and a sample sale at Marc Jacobs. Blech!