It started in a grungy Williamsburg garage.
Brooklyn residents Amy Abrams and Ronen Glimer would regularly grab their friends and peruse the Sixth Avenue flea markets in Chelsea for records, vintage clothes and Mid-Century Modern lighting.
The thrill of the hunt became such a passion that in 2003 they decided to open their own marketplace, Artists & Fleas, where makers of all sorts could sell their wares every Sunday.
“When we started … [makers] started to realize that we were just a weekend market and wonder if they could quit their job and depend on us,” Abrams told amNewYork. “They were kind of renegades in that they were going to do their thing full time.”
Despite its humble start with 35 vendors, in the past 15 years Artists & Fleas has grown to be one of the city’s most well-established markets, now open daily, and has expanded with three more locations in SoHo, Chelsea and in Los Angeles.
When you walk into any one of their fleas, there are booths of creators selling their handmade jewelry, racks of vintage clothing, aromatic soaps, well-kept vinyl records and more while music pumps through the warehouse-like space.
Speaking with the husband-wife team about their 15 years running Artists & Fleas, it’s clear their passion for the unique and their desire to provide a launchpad for vendors has remained at the core of their operations.
“Our mission was to have fun, meet interesting people and bring people together,” Glimer said about launching their first Artists & Fleas.
“And create a community that creates cool stuff from New York … we wanted to have an atmosphere where people could make friends and collaborate together,” Abrams said, finishing her husband’s sentence. “We saw that it had legs potentially and had a responsibility if [makers] were, in fact, going to quit their jobs [and show their wares at the market].”
Now, each market has anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 shoppers a day and vendors have gone on to open stores, start their careers in design and done collaborations, including jewelry designer Erica Weiner.
For Martha Camarillo, the owner of Gypsy Nation Vintage, it’s been a place she’s been able to rely on for more than two decades to make sales without encountering the many issues that can dissuade someone from opening their own business.
Camarillo was there from the beginning when the Williamsburg market opened “out in the boondocks,” on East Sixth Street, she said.
“It was an easy, breezy platform to get started,” she said. “There are so many things that can give you roadblocks, but this was roadblock free. You don’t have to worry about locking up and making a new key … there’s a freeness to it. It’s a test kitchen and you have no idea what you’re going to expect when you’re walking through the doors, including if you’re a vendor here.”
That variety of creative styles and wares is also what has made Artists & Fleas stick around for so long, according to Glimer and Abrams.
“New York City has creative makers that come from around the world, which is why it’s the greatest city and it is incredible to see the mashup of what these people bring from their cultures and how they translate that and connect with the different shoppers,” she said.
“This is a place where people who might not fit in the most conventional mold… can find their people and get their work out there,” Glimer said.