Longtime Market Moves to Arlington

Georgetown Flea Market regular Won Hyuk Pak of Arlington waves to a friend during a visit to the new space May 7.
Georgetown Flea Market regular Won Hyuk Pak of Arlington waves to a friend during a visit to the new space May 7. (Photos By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Georgetown Flea Market on Wisconsin Avenue always had the cachet that comes with a famous and historic location. Diane Keaton bought vintage clothes there. Author Larry McMurtry set one of his novels there. Olga Hirshhorn, as in the art museum, was a regular, once pulling a Moroccan rug and pillows out to show a New York Times reporter profiling her. "Aren't these colors wonderful? And I only paid $115! He wanted $120, but we flipped for it!"

A picture offered for sale there for $10 turned out to be an authentic Picasso worth $10,000. Antique dealers and interior decorators were rumored to show up with flashlights in the wee hours before the market opened to take a peek at the offerings.

Frommer's D.C. guidebook rates shopping there as one of the "best authentic experiences" in the District and writes, "spend a pleasant Sunday browsing through the castoffs of wealthy Washingtonians . . . Everybody shops here at one time or another, so you never know who you'll see or what you'll find." The flea market, which opened in 1972, boasts on its Web site that it's a "GLOBAL TOURIST MAGNET with frequent CELEBRITY sightings."

But no more.

On May 7, the Georgetown Flea Market officially moved -- to Virginia. It's now in a Clarendon parking lot across from the Arlington County Courthouse at the Courthouse stop on Metro's Orange Line.

After bouncing around three different sites, the Georgetown Flea Market was a fixture for the past 18 years at the Hardy Middle School parking lot on Wisconsin Avenue. But in the last few years, as an extensive renovation at the school got underway, the size of the market shrank. In the end, the market closed to make way for construction trucks and equipment.

"We stayed as long as we can stay," said Michael Sussman, the market's founder. But he promises to return.

Managers estimate that in the market's heyday, 1,000 customers a week wandered through the quirky and collectible items offered by 120 vendors. Over time, many of the vendors opened antique shops that now line the 1800 block of Wisconsin Avenue NW.

"I go to parties, dinner parties, cocktail parties, and everyone has a Georgetown Flea Market story," Sussman said. "It's like the Ringling Brothers Circus. Everyone knows it's there. For a business to be around 35 years in this city is remarkable."

Sussman knew what his vendors were thinking. He heard what his regulars were saying. Clarendon? Across the bridge? In the suburbs ? "It will never be the Georgetown Flea Market," sniffed one disappointed shopper on WTOP radio on April 30, the day the market closed its Georgetown location.

But that's what Sussman calls "old think," and, he confessed, he was guilty of it, too. Until recently, he thought of Arlington as a place to go get your car fixed.

"I have a group of friends, we go out to eat every month, and last month we went to some Italian restaurant in Arlington," he said. "It was packed with young people. It wasn't the Virginia of old. I was picturing these stodgy people. This was a really cool group of young professionals, old professionals. It was really hip. It not your father's Oldsmobile. This is not suburbia there."

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