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Ludlow Flea Market offers unique, sustainable pieces at affordable prices

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The Ludlow Flea Market at 159 Ludlow St., a 20-minute walk from NYU’s Washington Square Park campus, was my first secondhand shopping experience. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. 

The first thing that surprised me about Ludlow Flea was the small space. I was on the opposite side of the street and initially walked right past it. I had imagined a block full of little carts, booths, music and people, perhaps similar to the Chelsea Market’s bright and lively energy. Instead, I was met by an unassuming cement lot sandwiched between convenience stores and delis, blending into the bustle of the street surrounding it. 

After surveying the items on display, I wasn’t sure how to feel. The T-shirts and crew-neck sweatshirts that filled the space definitely had some wear to them. However, buried among the more basic clothing pieces were designer garments: Dior blazers and dress pants, Reiss dresses and skirts and Gucci handbags, all priced fairly.

What the Ludlow Flea Market lacked in space and appearance, it made up for in character, atmosphere and community. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the clothes were priced very reasonably. There was a feeling of transparency and honesty among the sellers and the buyers. It didn’t feel as though their objective was to simply sell the clothing, but rather to find it a home. 

The handful of vendors present filled the space with their enthusiasm, conversation and helpfulness. Getting to speak with the sellers about their items made my shopping experience much much more enjoyable and personal.

Futa Mitakara, one of Ludlow Flea’s sellers, is a Japanese designer who frequents flea markets with his products. Secondhand clothing like T-shirts, sweatshirts, pants, trucker hats and a selection of handbags accompanied Mitakara at his booth. However, what caught my eye was not the muted shirts and bottoms that hung on clothing racks, but the vibrant and uniquely stitched items that lay on a folded table. 

Mitakara created AekT, his own clothing business, last September. At first, he was only upcycling his secondhand items, but eventually realized that he had a passion for creating. Afterwards, he began crafting hand-stitched items, including many crochet pieces.

Another vendor, Mimi Urízar-Ávila, a College of Arts and Sciences alumni, sells at Ludlow because of its proximity to her apartment and the community she’s fostered.

“All the vendors just hang and help each other out,” Urízar-Ávila said. “I’ve made a lot of friends there and the vending community is overall super supportive and collaborative.”

For Urízar-Ávila, a community like Ludlow Flea is the norm. Buying second-hand was something she grew up with — her father taught her to thrift and it gradually became second nature. 

“[My dad] would also like to collect old tennis rackets, so we’d sometimes go and just help him look for them,” Urízar-Ávila said. “Then in middle school I would go thrifting and start dyeing or bleaching and cutting clothes up to mimic things I wanted but couldn’t afford. Slowly people at my school liked what I did; my jewelry as well. I started selling jewelry and clothes to my peers here and there really young, like around 15 and 16.”


However, over the last two years the pandemic has forced Shulman to close her store on Canal Street. Despite that setback, Shulman is reimagining her business and hoping to reopen a store on Ludlow Street, not far from where the flea market is located. Her two brands include Preppy Trendy, a sustainable clothing boutique, and Feline Jewelry Studio, which offers beautiful vintage and upcycled pieces. I ended up buying two rings from her afterwards. 

Supporting small businesses, thrifting and shopping sustainably has recently become a trend in the fashion world. The vendors I spoke with all agreed that they have seen more interest in their products over the past year and a half. Glad as they are, they hope that this will last more than a few seasons, not only for themselves but also for the sake of the ecosystem and the harm that has come to it as a result of overproduction. 

There is a unique energy and environment at this flea market that I had never experienced before. I was able to learn more about the vendors, form a more personal bond with them and support their businesses in a mutually beneficial way. The opportunity to meet with and forge relationships with the people selling our clothing is something we miss out on at larger stores. 

The Ludlow Flea Market was an amazing weekend afternoon experience. It is open Fridays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every week.


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Getting answers: Olde Hadley Flea Market hoping to return April 2023


Behind the colorful booths, lively music and tantalizing smells of local Mexican foods at the San Jose Flea Market are tears and heartache.

Vendors greet patrons with a smile, but mask a world of pain and anxiety many are feeling regarding future development. A 2021 San Jose City Council vote allowed flea market operators to move forward with developing and selling the land the 62-year-old market sits on, leaving the market’s future uncertain.

The flea market is still open and guaranteed to operate until 2024, and many of the 450-plus vendors are trying to make the most of it before the land is turned into the Berryessa BART Urban Village. When that happens, the largest flea market in the city will shrink to a third of its size—potentially displacing hundreds of longtime vendors.


In the interim, changes in operations and enforcement have made it harder for vendors to do business as usual. Some vendors have left, and others are thinking about leaving.

“I have been working here 45 years,” vendor Anthony Tamyo told San José Spotlight. “I am old now, how can I get another job? I do not know what is next.”

When asked about his future, Tamyo struggled to quell tears forming in his eyes. He plans on staying until the flea market closes, but said some vendors around him have already closed shop.

“There are no more customers,” Tamyo said, pointing to the parking and entry price hike as the biggest reason for a drop in patrons. In early March, parking fees increased on Friday-Sunday to as much as $20. “Many people have shrunk their booths in half too.”

Vendor Angel Lin cried as she explained how she spent her life savings trying to make her storefront profitable since opening five years ago. Lin said she was finally able to turn a profit in the last two years. The ground under her finally felt solid after moving to San Jose from China, but the news of eminent closure has cracked her foundation.

“I put everything into this, all my money, time and hard work,” Lin told San José Spotlight. “It is just so sad and I do not know what I will do after.”

Lin said her next-door booth neighbor was forced to shut down after a verbal altercation with management. The vendor was angry that operators wouldn’t fix his leaky roof.


​Increased enforcement 

At a Monday San Jose community and economic development meeting, representatives of the Bumb family, the flea market owners, gave an update on operations—noting the market expelled two vendors due to lease agreement violations in the last quarter.

“One was selling counterfeit goods, which is illegal,” said Erik Schoennauer, a land use consultant who represents the Bumb family.

However, Jesus Flores, president and CEO of the Latino Business Foundation Silicon Valley, believes the number of expelled vendors is much higher.

“They have been more strict than ever,” Flores told San José Spotlight. “Vendors are telling us there is more security now walking the aisles and making sure that no one breaks the rules.”

Rigoberto Gonzalez, a vendor who has sold Mexican sweets, piñatas and other goodies for 30-plus years, said it’s hard for vendors to comply because rules change often.

“I am not allowed to hang my piñatas during the weekdays,” Gonzalez said. “They say it’s because of a fire hazard, but why now and why not on the weekend?”


​Flores said at least half the vendors are thinking about leaving because of worsening conditions. In the past few weeks, Flores said he tried to conduct a study, but couldn’t because his access to vendors was restricted. Vendors are also not allowed to talk to each other and organize within the market, and some leaders from the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association were also expelled, he said.

However, Schoennauer said the reason vendors are not permitted to converse is due to outsiders wanting to come in and sell products to vendors. He also defended the increase in parking fees, saying it was a business decision due to minimum wage hikes, inflation and higher security costs. He countered there has not been any unusual vendor turnover or a decrease in customers since the cost of parking went up.

“We only get revenue from three sources: vendors, food and beverage concessions and parking fees,” Schoennauer told San José Spotlight. “If we had raised vendor space rent, there would be a riot. So parking was the only option.”


City relations

While relations with the landowners are contentious, flea market vendors and advocates say the relationship with the city’s Office of Economic Development is hopeful. City leaders recently started preliminary steps to conduct three economic studies to help determine the value of the flea market.

“Basically all three studies are putting numbers on paper to show that the market is an economic power,” said Roberto Gonzalez, president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association. “It highlights the cultural aspect as well, showing how much of an asset it is culturally to minority groups and immigrants because it is a first entry point to jobs and helps them assimilate.”

The city is using the initial $500,000 installment of $5 million provided by the Bumb Family to pay for the studies. This installment enables the office of economic development, the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association and advocates—to be selected in this fall—to set up an advisory committee to determine the flea market’s future. The remaining $4.5 million will be split up, with a portion paid a year prior to closure and the remaining balance paid when the market closes to support the vendors.

“Our goal is to keep the five-acre market plus an additional market. Maybe 10-15 acres or whatever amount of acres to fit all the current vendors and leave room for even more,” Gonzalez told San José Spotlight. “We want the city to be our partner.”

The idea is that the market be vendor-owned and operated on city property. It’s not clear how plausible the goal is, but Gonzalez said the city has certainly not shot down the idea.


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This Amish flea market in Ohio features 55,000 square feet of indoor shopping


There's an Amish flea market in northeast Ohio that features 55,000 square feet of indoor shopping.

Nestled in Sugarcreek, Ohio, the Walnut Creek Amish Flea Market is now open for the season. The flea market is expected to have an additional 10,000 square feet of space to open this month.


​The flea market is open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It is located at 1900 State Route 39 in Sugarcreek.