I stopped by the Franklin Flea on Saturday to check out the scene, and didn't leave for over an hour. The nascent market remains small and even sparsely populated by more established flea market standards, but there are still great finds to be had and wonderful people to talk to. Asking around about the success of the inaugural year, merchant after merchant gave me the same response: hawking our wares has been fun, but we're sticking around because we love the community of people we've shared the summer with. The sentiment makes for an inviting, laid-back vibe, with vendors treating one another more like colleagues than competition.
My first stop was The Pour Gourmet table, whose fantastic sauces/glazes/marinades I first sampled back in May. When I showed up then, I tasted three creations, but this time there were five available, which executive chef Jason Hait called his "all-stars," including my new favorite, Beer-B-Q, a barbeque sauced simmered in Guinness that I could have eaten with a spoon. Jason offered me a seat and poured out a tall glass of raspberry lemonade (a steal at $2 - the glass was easily 20oz.) while telling me how the Pour Gourmet has official gone international (some Norwegians discovered them!) and how much fun he's had at the Flea this summer.
After I'd drained my glass, Jason proceeded to introduce me around to the other merchants, starting with some of his suppliers (all of his products are made with locally-available ingredients right here in Crown Heights), the Cain Brothers. These Brooklyn natives have been gardening for a long time, and a few years ago, they invested in a small farm up in Saugerties, NY, where they grow an assortment of organic produce to sell at local markets. They had been selling in East New York and Brownsville when the Franklin Flea came calling.
My next stop was the Planet Ert table (first two photos above), where co-owner Danyel showed me through their impressive selection of crafts made with recycled/found materials. Wares included wallets made from potato chip bags, recycled paper notebooks and notecards, Darth-Vader-head candles (molded from a discarded action figure), and the umbrellas shading it all, composed of found wood and painted canvas. Carleen Haughton of Bristen's Eatery, the flea's founder, liked the last item so much that she bought a few for her restaurant's garden.
Danyel was as effusive as Jason about her time at the Flea, saying what a wonderful experience it has been so far. As to her own enterprise, which she shares with boyfriend/partner/founder Robert Heller, she said "it's about giving gifts, finding joy in what's around us." Holding a notecard of paper made in her home, she added "Everyone sends email now, but when you see this kind of envelope, you know it's special."
I started to head out after this chat, but Jason wouldn't let me leave without checking in with Frank, who had been playing bubbles with another vendor's daughter when I arrived. An avid reader, Frank retired and made himself a vinyl book cover with his mother's sewing machine one day a few years ago, and withing a few days had been told by more than one person that he should think about making, and selling more. "I may be slow, but I'm thorough" laughed Frank, as he showed me what has become a labor of love for him, piles of perfectly-stitched book covers (each lined inside and out, and with a built-in bookmark) and wallets bearing the flags of nearly every nation in the Western Hemisphere. His work is so meticulous as to almost seem the product of a much larger operation, and Frank smiles about his ability to produce them. "I could create hundreds of these for a school fundraiser, for instance" he said, pondering ways to share his creations.
For more thoughts and photos of the Franklin Flea, check out Nostrand Park and Brooklyn Born, both of whom were smart enough to swing by on the day that Bristen's offered free smoothies earlier this summer. If you haven't made it yet, the Flea is certainly going to run until the last weekend in September, and may continue into October if the weather holds, so block out some time this Saturday and check it out!