“Ugh, I should move to New York — the shopping/restaurants/men/cold-press coffees are so much better there!” Anyone who has lived in D.C. longer than a week has heard someone wistfully sigh (or irritably screech) the same lament.
This weekend, Gotham wannabes can knock one thing off their “Things That Are Superior in New York” list: Brooklyn Flea. District Flea, a local spinoff of the hip borough’s iconic market, begins a six-week run Saturday in Shaw. Organizers plan to return next spring.
The curated District Flea — which features around 80 rotating vendors hawking crafts, artisanal food, and vintage clothes and furniture — will fill a 37,000-square-foot paved lot near the 9:30 Club.
“It fits into a neighborhood [like Shaw], where you can easily walk from place to place and where there are small businesses opening and a lot of young people,” says Hugh McIntosh, District Flea’s market manager.
The fledgling souk joins a roster of recently launched marketplaces that include Logan Circle’s DC MEETMarket and Silver Spring’s Fenton Street Market.
These sort of crafty, open-air bazaars have become as commonplace as lumberjack beards and small-batch pickles, in part because they give small businesses a chance to try new concepts with low overhead costs, says Heather Arnold, director of research and analysis at Streetsense, a Bethesda retail-centric consulting company.
“In D.C., it’s very difficult to find smaller [retail] spaces in these historic neighborhoods with a sense of community,” she says. Plus, many vendors love markets for the camaraderie and creativity that comes from being around other sellers.
District Flea organizers didn’t need to look very far afield for their roster of cool crafters, furniture makers and vintage vendors.
“Pulling from D.C., Maryland and Virginia — as well as Pennsylvania and Delaware — we have this unique collection of antique and furniture dealers,” McIntosh says. “Even people who have been to Brooklyn Flea are going to be surprised.”
Among the curiosities: handmade feathered hats, vintage eyeglasses, punk memorabilia, mid-century modern furniture and old-school Polaroid cameras.
Of the dozens of vendors, McIntosh approximates that three-fifths are from the D.C. area, with a healthy mix from neighboring states.
For sellers, the local market renaissance offers both excitement and opportunity. “The D.C. flea market scene is younger, fresher and not as established,” says Howard Brown, half of the duo behind British vintage menswear purveyor Brown & Williams Clothiers, which will have a booth at the flea. “That gives it vibrancy. You don’t need to break in.”
Mike Berman, executive director of the company that runs Eastern Market, has watched the popularity of outdoor markets grow with both shoppers and vendors for three decades. “Markets are more in-demand than ever,” Berman says. (He estimates that Eastern Market now draws about 10,000 people a day on weekends.) “There’s going to be a lot of support for these folks moving into the area. [Brooklyn Flea organizers] run a class act.”
District Flea Finds
In addition to vintage LP turntables ($100, Mr. Analog Stereo), gourmet salad dressings ($10, Dress It Up Dressing) and handmade bow ties ($35-$55, Brownbelle), find these off-beat items.
Brown & Williams Clothiers: Local friends Howard Brown and Christopher Williams unite in their love of vintage British menswear. Expect herringbone jackets, tweed hats and lace-up shoes that’d make Prince Charles swoon (most items, $80-$180). brownandwilliamsclothiers.com
Diament Designs: Some of the baubles Arlington jewelry-maker Libby Diament sells are handmade, others are vintage, and some are both — but they’re all charming. She scours the country for antique chains and dead stock gems to create pretty rings and delicate necklaces. diamentjewelry.com
Dylan Designs: Baltimore furniture-maker Tony Oliver mixes reclaimed woods (walnut, oak, pine) with stainless steel and brass to form sleek, yet warm, modern pieces. Think coffee tables ($950 and up), cutting boards (from $52) and unusual lamps. dylandesigncompany.com