Brooklyn Flea Market finds a like-minded spot for a D.C. outpost

September 15, 2013

The Brooklyn-ization of downtown Washington may have started Saturday with a temporary flea market.

Under a brilliant blue sky, hundreds of shoppers and oglers converged on an empty lot at Ninth Street and Florida Avenue NW, where more than 70 vendors hawked everything from handmade “fascinator” hats to artichoke ravioli, from vintage clothing and jewelry to tarted-up furniture and funky barware.

The newest outpost of the sprawling Brooklyn Flea market, born in the hipster-heavy New York City borough, aims to introduce buyers of all ages to predominantly young East Coast crafters, thrifters, online sellers and brick-and-mortar merchants.

Today’s Brooklyn has been assailed as the epicenter of smug, creative young Manhattan escapees who clog the streets with baby strollers and extol the virtues of artisanal mayonnaise. But flea-market enthusiast Hugh McIntosh notes some similarities between the Borough of Churches and the federal city.

“Bicycling around the neighborhood, you see all these construction cranes, houses that look like Brooklyn, a vibe of small entrepreneurs,” says the man who oversees flea-market operations when not teaching eighth-grade English at Washington’s tony St. Albans School. “I wouldn’t mind some stroller gridlock and artisanal mayo. I say, bring it on.”

Despite the presence of venerable fleas in Georgetown (antiques and collectibles) and Capitol Hill (handmade arts, crafts and antiques), McIntosh was so certain the Brooklyn market — with its younger, edgier craftspeople and interesting food — would work here that he contacted Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby, who created the empire that now includes eight permanent and temporary flea or food markets in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Philadelphia. Washington’s Saturday-only flea/food venture, dubbed the District Flea, ends Oct. 19.

“D.C. clearly in the last few years has become not dissimilar to Brooklyn,” says Butler. “You only have to look at the skyline and all the cranes. It’s also a very sophisticated and international town.” He considers flea markets “a kind of town square. Even if you’re not looking for a dresser, you take the kids, you buy a gift for a birthday. There are a lot of itches it can scratch.”

And there was much scratching Saturday.

Ravioli Revolution — selling artichoke, Hawaiian-braised-short-rib and crab-and-corn-cake ravioli — ran out of product before 2 p.m. The enterprise is headed by Maggie and Michael Porzio, she a curator at the National Museum of American History, he an investment banker who says he wants to do ravioli full time. They recently moved to Petworth from New York, although he commutes back to his job.

Ciao Sposa’s Nina O’Neil showed women how best to wear the sassy hats and fascinators she creates from felt, vintage tulle and feathers. An Etsy.com seller and full-time French painting specialist at the National Gallery of Art, O’Neil views this market as an upscale outdoor shopping mall.

With her hats costing $50 and up, she concedes, “my price point is kind of higher than at flea markets. The expectation here is that these are stores that should be brick-and-mortar. This market is younger and edgier than the Eastern Market, which has all the usual suspects. And I never leave with anything from Georgetown. It’s about . . . time to have a market that caters to my niche,” says O’Neil, who lives in Northeast Washington’s booming H Street corridor.

Vintage clothing dealer Ashley Duffy Grant of Bethesda could barely keep up with traffic at her Gypsy de la Lune tent. She handed a gold metallic belt to a woman who had slipped a filmy taupe cocktail frock over her clothes, noting, “It will emphasize your small waist.”

An adroit but not pushy stylist, Grant called her $3,000 Saturday take “beyond my wildest dreams. The trend is, your first day is your best day and then business dwindles. But if you bring in fresh pieces, even risky pieces and larger-size pieces, people will come back. I sold so much that I need to fly to L.A. and Atlanta this week or next to stock up.”

She buys from vintage clothing wholesalers. “The biggest lesson I learned Saturday is that I need more belts.”

Nearby, Jeanne Cosimano, a 20-year dealer at Georgetown’s Sunday flea market, was doing a brisk trade in old maps, prints and small decorative objects. “A New York market? I couldn’t resist it. The organizers did a great job of advertising, but I have also told everyone who stops here about the Georgetown market.”

Perusing Cosimano’s wares was Rebecca Sinderbrand, a Politico editor, New York transplant and original Brooklyn Flea market shopper. Marveling at Washington’s lower prices, she obligingly showed off a striped jersey top and a white dress bought earlier Saturday for $44.

Linda Emery of Arlington, who sells vintage linens, from $5 hankies and dish towels to $50 tablecloths, says she was pleased that “people are here to buy things, not just poke around. They know what they are looking at. This is not your mama’s garage sale.”

One of those taking in the scene was Michael Sussman, who founded the Georgetown flea 40 years ago. “It’s like the 2013 hipster convention,” he says.

But he’s not taking the Brooklyn invasion lying down. Sussman plans to launch his own mid-city market next month. “It will be year-round, on Saturdays and Sundays, with 30 vendors selling quality antiques and collectibles. Competition is always good. D.C. needs it.”

Groer is a freelance writer.

Annie Groer is a former Washington Post and PoliticsDaily.com writer and columnist specializing in politics, culture and design. She has also written for the New York Times, Town & Country, Washingtonian and More, and is at work on a memoir. Follow her @AnnieGroer.
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