The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

District Flea pulls the plug, citing flagging attendance and vendor turnout

All the cachet of Brooklyn, it turns out, couldn't save the Brooklyn Flea's Washington spinoff, the District Flea.

Organizers of the weekly gathering near the 9:30 Club -- which arrived from New York last fall with an array of furniture, vintage clothing and food -- sent a letter to vendors Tuesday announcing that the market had gone on hiatus just weeks after its second season had begun, the Washington City Paper reported today.

The letter was addressed from Eric Demby, one of the founders of the Brooklyn Flea, which operated the D.C. market. "In the end, the volume of vendors didn't support our ambitious business model for a weekly market," the letter read. "We think this location still has a lot of potential, so stay tuned for news in the future."

Interest "was diminishing each week," said District Flea manager Hugh McIntosh. "We had a pretty strong opening week, then it sort of dipped down more than we'd expected." The market debuted to great fanfare in September with about 70 vendors; it reopened for its second season on April 5. The final flea was May 3.

Chris Vigilante, owner of local roaster Vigilante Coffee Co., had operated a busy stand serving iced coffees and lattes at the market since it opened last year. Tuesday's hiatus announcement took him by surprise, he said, though he knew the market was struggling. Organizers contacted Vigilante and other vendors about a week ago for ideas on how to attract more vendors and customers. "I thought they were going to make some attempts to try those things out," he said, "but I guess they decided it would be better to close."

McIntosh said the flea marked his first time working market operations. Much of his time was spent looking for vendors of jewelry and vintage clothing from up and down the East Coast. But very quickly, District Flea established a reputation as an open-air food destination, where customers could dine on tacos and sip locally made kombucha. Flea organizers even added several tables this season to accommodate those who came to the flea strictly to eat.

The development of the District Flea into a food-focused space troubled Michael Sussman, who founded the U Street Flea, which operates Saturdays and Sundays in the same neighborhood, at 912 U St. NW. "I'm sorry to see them go," said Sussman, who also founded the Georgetown Flea Market. But, he added, Brooklyn Flea founders may not have had enough of a grasp of the local market. "They didn't understand the D.C. market because they weren't from D.C. They were more interested in selling food and beer rather than attracting good quality antiques and collectibles vendors, who were selling actual things that people want to buy and take home."

"Food is a peripheral," Sussman added. "You have to walk around and have them see something. That's the essence of a market."

McIntosh said he did not know whether the "hiatus" meant the flea would ever return, but he was aware of other events being scheduled in the flea's lot at 945 Florida Ave. NW through its owner, developer JBG Companies. Union Kitchen, a cooperative workspace for food producers operating in Northeast, announced Tuesday that it would host its Lot at Union Kitchen concert and food event in the space on the final Saturday in May.

"It was really fun to try, and we were so psyched to get the opportunity to give it a shot," McIntosh said. "It's just too bad that it didn't catch on fast enough."