UWS Sunday Market Aims at Reflecting City’s Vibrancy

CHEN bazaar mirrors copy
Grand Bazaar NYC hopes to be a mirror for New York City’s vitality and diversity. | JACKSON CHEN

BY  JACKSON CHEN | Each Sunday, an Upper West Side school campus is transformed into a bustling bazaar where vendors try to entice passersby with the impressive variety of their merchandise.

In the joint schoolyard shared by P.S. 452, the Anderson School, and the Computer School, tables are set up throughout with goods ranging from the typical flea market knickknacks to colorful Indian tapestries, gourmet foods, and even a collection of college pennants.

All of these vendors are part of Grand Bazaar NYC, a weekly year-round market officially making its debut this month at 100 West 77th Street, after a several-week tryout as the successor to GreenFlea Market, an earlier incarnation dating back to 1985. The curated market accommodates 43,000 square feet of outdoor and indoor space and continues GreenFlea’s mission of donating its proceeds to four neighboring public schools — the three housed at the West 77th Street campus as well as the nearby P.S. 87 at 160 West 78th Street.

“Back in the day, the parents said, ‘How can we help the kids?,’ and spontaneously did a flea market,” said Marc Seago, Grand Bazaar’s marketing director. “It grew and grew… The social mission and cause for it to be, raising funds for the 4,000 kids, is still the same.”

Simon Karaben, of Pickles, Olives, Etc., completes a sale. | JACKSON CHEN
Simon Karaben, of Pickles, Olives, Etc., completes a sale. | JACKSON CHEN

What’s new is the market’s vision and accompanying name, which according to Seago, was chosen to match its grander scope and diversity of merchants. The original GreenFlea name was a nod to both its nature as a flea market and it environmentally-friendly character, he said. Now, the market has a more ambitious and cohesive mission focused on food, artisan crafts, and designers, and it needed a name to match.

“We have this big vision — what would match this big vision? — so the word grand came with it,” Seago explained of the new name. “Bazaar came through the fact the city is a melting pot. It has diversity, and a bazaar has diversity.”

As both city dwellers and tourists step through the market’s main entrance on Columbus Avenue between West 76th and 77th Streets, they start their journey by browsing through the marked-down clothing and handbags immediately in front. Once done perusing these apéritifs, they will run into intriguing tables of college pennants varying in shapes, sizes, and colors.

“I have over 4,000,” Steve Melillo, owner of Americana Memories, said of his entire pennant collection. “You wouldn’t know it but if you counted all the items I had here today, it would be over 1,000.”

From Harvard to Yale to Brown — and NYU and Columbia for those with hometown loyalties — the majority of Melillo’s collection is custom-framed for display, while his larger and more expensive pieces are clipped to the schoolyard fence.

A small sample Steve Melillo’s vast pennant collection. | JACKSON CHEN
A small sample Steve Melillo’s vast pennant collection. | JACKSON CHEN

Surprisingly, many of the banner broker’s customers are Europeans who buy them as conversation pieces for their homes since their countries lack the college pennant tradition of the US.

A short walk away from the vibrant array of college colors, pungently tart aromas draw shoppers toward Simon Karaben and his assortment of olives and pickles.

“We import [olives] from all different Mediterranean countries… Italy, Greece, we import from Turkey, from Spain, all over the place,” Karaben, who handles the retail side of Pickles, Olives, Etc., said. “Every year, we try to add different varieties to our table so when our customers come they can find something different.”

The pickles are locally made in the family-owned business’ headquarters in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, Karaben said. A seven-year veteran of the Upper West Side market, the pickle purveyor has established lasting friendships with his customers to the point that he is able to preemptively pack someone’s order as he spots them approaching.

“We became like family with the neighborhood,” Karaben said. “They way we’re looking at it, we’re not here just for business, but also here to enjoy the day with our customers.”

For those arriving when Grand Bazaar opens at 10 a.m. who may consider a pickle strong stuff for the morning hours, they can move inside of the school where other vendors are set up out of the sun’s glare. It’s a decidedly sweet scent that greets guests as they step toward the main bazaar area, where Amerrah Brown stands ready to explain to the curious that the pleasant fragrances come from her mix of handmade, vegan, no animal-fat skincare products.

“The whole idea is to teach people to love themselves by using my product,” Brown, the owner and founder of Beautiful Amore, said.

Natural soaps and other skincare products offered by Amerrah Brown’s Beautiful Amore. | JACKSON CHEN
Natural soaps and other skincare products offered by Amerrah Brown’s Beautiful Amore. | JACKSON CHEN

Brown began making soaps in 2001 after her own experience dealing with eczema taught her that many kitchen ingredients, like coconut oil and olive oil can serve — every bit as much as aloe vera — as a natural skincare solution. Now a month into her table at Grand Bazaar, Brown said she’s often had to warn her customers not to eat her soaps, which are scented with ingredients ranging from vanilla lavender to mango butter and lemon pound cake.

Further indoors, customers will find traditional — and typically crowd-pleasing — flea market fare like handmade jewelry, porcelain, and yard sale layouts.

For Emmy Hardy, the owner of Colorful Treasures, it took roughly a year to get into the market after embarking on its application process. Now, she boasts a table filled with precious gemstones and grade A jade she’s collected over the years.

“I personally love colored stones and gemstones, it’s a hobby,” she explained. “Now I try to make it a business.”

Set up on a draped cafeteria table, she’s able to share her passion with the diverse crowd that throngs the market’s aisles.

“We can talk to and see different people, it’s all international,” Hardy said. “Customers are very different. They have local people, and some are visitors, from young to old.”

Sharon Murphy’s collection of teacups collected from around the globe. | JACKSON CHEN
Sharon Murphy’s collection of teacups collected from around the globe. | JACKSON CHEN

Likewise, Sharon Murphy is intent on keeping her spot at the bazaar because of the enjoyment she gets from sharing stories with would-be purchasers about the teacups she’s collected from around the world, including France, Italy, and Russia.

“I have fun meeting people, telling them about these cups, and showing it to them,” Murphy said. “I think that’s a big part of my sales.”

Murphy noted that the flea market industry has generally been on a downward slope for years and she simply looks to break even with her presence at Grand Bazaar. In the bigger picture, her table is a means for advertising her etsy.com store, Teacups From Sharon, where she makes a majority of her sales.

Hopeful that Grand Bazaar can begin a resurgence at what for three decades had marketed itself as a flea market, she’s content to trust its future to those in charge.

Despite its soft opening several Sundays ago, Grand Bazaar NYC makes its official launch on September 11, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., with what it confidently boasts is a unique collection of foods, crafts, and designs with the makings for becoming a choice city marketplace.

“There’s no real market for artisans, antiques, food, one that really encompasses it all,” Seago said. “That’s why we have this vision to bring it all together.”