A Flea Grows in Brooklyn

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Brooklyn Flea -- an immense artisan market at the crossroads of Ft. Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- has transformed Saturday mornings in the neighborhood. "For one thing, I've been told we've changed the primary brunch day from Sunday to Saturday," jokes Eric Demby, who co-founded the Flea, as it's affectionately known, in 2007 with Jonathan Butler, author of the popular Brooklyn blog Brownstoner.

But the market, which draws thousands of visitors every weekend, is also having an impact on the neighborhood itself, helping to fill the coffers of local businesses and exposing a whole new generation of young artists to the borough's charms. "Bringing four or five thousand people to a neighborhood every weekend is going to have some kind of obvious impact," says Demby. "It's great to have a business that has a ripple effect."

It's also bringing neighbors out of their houses. "There's a cottage industry that has sprouted up around the Flea," Demby points out. "You will now find a stoop sale on every block in a three-block radius."
The Flea isn't the only game in town. Just around the bend in Williamsburg, Amy Abrams and Ronen Glimer found a way to tap into the thriving artist community living in and among vacated industrial spaces. In 2003, they started Artists & Fleas on N. Sixth and Berry. They were inspired by the artisan markets they visited while vacationing in other cities and neighborhoods.

"When we started, it was a passion project" says Abrams. "But now, many of our artists have been able to quit their day jobs and are getting to do what they love full time."

Lower-income and renter-based neighborhoods are often great places to mine for artists of all calibers. People like Demby and Butler, and Abrams and Glimer, are making it possible for these neighborhood dwellers to find a wider audience for their work.

They're also doing their part to change how the outside world views the neighborhood they love. "People's image of Brooklyn is still "On the Waterfront," or something on fire," Demby says. "But if they come and see this other side, it might change that." He cites the area's beautiful architecture, particularly its "amazing" old brownstone buildings, as one its most impressive features. "Since a lot of people walk to us from the subway, the impact of the beauty of these neighborhoods is immediate," he says.

Artisan markets like the Brooklyn Flea and Artists & Fleas are not just bringing people to Brooklyn, but they are also helping local residents connect with each other -- which can make a neighborhood feel like a safer, friendlier and more interesting place to live. Says Demby, "The Flea is updating people's image of Brooklyn, and we take that seriously."

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