Just a few months after she was laid off, Dina Marusca, a 35-year-old former loan officer, bypassed the want ads and started her own business, almost literally overnight. Packing up bags of clothes she no longer wore and unused items that were taking up space in her Medford home, she set up her booth alongside hundreds of others at the Long Island Festival Flea Market in Farmingville. Armed with a booth fee totaling less than an average day at the movies and a strong belief in the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Marusca became an instant entrepreneur.
“What’s the worst that could have happened, I lost a few bucks? Broke even, only to spend a day in the sun talking to people? I’ve had worse days.”
But Marusca didn’t leave empty handed. She left with $175. Flea market attendance has risen up to 15 percent across the country, according to the National Flea Market Association. In growing numbers, both sellers and buyers are heading to a handful of local markets for a smorgasbord of new and used items, local goods, services and even food. It’s just another way to make ends meet during a recession.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
When Westbury’s Roosevelt Raceway closed in 1988, the former track, which had spent more than four decades as one of the nation’s finest, met a fate similar to many commercial victims following the early ’80s recession. The 172-acre site remained home to an expanded 2,000-vendor flea market, following in the footsteps of other businesses withered down to vacant buildings and empty lots. During its 17 years, the market boasted more than $50 million in annual sales. Hundreds of vendors and local residents took to the streets for a “funeral procession” down Hempstead Turnpike in protest when the site was threatened with closure. But as the economy picked up, large-scale retailers moved in, and pushed the vendors out by 1995.
“It was a great inexpensive way to spend the day and a savings that you could count on, on a weekend basis,” says Robert Yeganeh, Love My Shoes founder and Kioli Flea & Farmers’ Market vendor, who sold shoes at Roosevelt Raceway for more than 20 years. “You waited to by your shoes there, you waited to buy your jeans there, you waited to buy your fresh bread there from the bread guy—whoever was there.”
The raceway is now home to a several big box stores and condominiums. The Commack Arena, once home to a large indoor flea market, was knocked down and a Target built in its place. Local produce markets like the Bay Shore and Bethpage Farmer’s Markets gave way to Best Buy and Waldbaums.
But recently, the owners of Shopper’s Village in West Hempstead, who closed up shop in 1995 and leased the building to National Wholesale Liquidators for 14 years until they went out of business, suddenly found themselves in the same position they were in decades ago with a vacant building and a recession. And not to mention, an entire generation of 30-somethings who still reminisce over their old high school hangout and the smell of pickle juice whenever they hear the name.
Shopper’s Village co-owner Ron Morello recalls his daughter showing him a Web site about the flea market.
“My daughter said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to go on this site. There’s all these people talking about Shopper’s Village, how great it was, how sorry they were to see it leave.’ I didn’t know how popular we really were.”
Facebook has been an epicenter for groups gathering on the Web to exchange memories of places like Shopper’s Village—high school outings with friends and visits to one of its most well-known vendors, The Pickle People.
“I grew up in these places,” says 30-year-old Michelle DiAngelo from Franklin Square. “And maybe it’s just the generation gap but when I see kids walking around the mall or maybe at Toys ‘R’ Us, it’s such a pre-packaged atmosphere. You could walk in one of these stores in any other state and it would look exactly the same.”
During a stumbling job market, it’s this nostalgia, in addition to shallow pockets, that is drawing the masses. Last month, Shopper’s Village reopened its doors to a crowd of 14,000, including some of its original vendors, according to Morello.
But low start-up costs and guaranteed consumer traffic are appealing to first-timers with sometimes little to no business background and an entrepreneurial spirit.
“Several [vendors] that I know have either lost their jobs or are using this as a second income,” says Morello. “One girl worked for one of the big fashion houses and was let go from her job. And, rather than go back and try to survive in that industry, said ‘I’m going to open my own business’ and she came here.”
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
If there is any question that secondhand goods are in demand, look no further than your local charity. Used clothing and household items are a significant source of income for many local non-profit organizations.
Over the past 14 months, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Long Island, a youth mentoring organization in Levittown, has seen a significant drop in used-goods contributions. Not in contributors themselves, but in the amount each individual has been able to contribute, according to Bill Tymann, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Long Island.
“Folks aren’t buying as many new clothes or household goods as they have done before this recession, so it’s had a very negative impact on any charity that relies on these items as a source of income,” says Tymann.
The demand for these products is so big, competition for them is going up, and some are resorting to extreme measures.
“Private companies and less ethical companies are literally stealing them from the charities, opening and breaking open into their bins and raiding the routes,” says Tymann. “We have other people picking up our stuff before us and stealing it because it is so lucrative to do that right now.”
KEEPING IT LOCAL
Looking for a tin can from 1976? How about a rotary phone? Nikes? Tomatoes? Aside from the fact that you can find almost anything at a flea market, maybe the best part is that the money spent here goes directly to your neighbors, not some faceless corporation in another state.
Buying locally keeps local small business owners in business, ensuring they’re here for the long haul. It’s beneficial for the environment, and in some cases, it’s even better for your health.
“Eating local food is important to everyone’s wellbeing,” says Chris Palmer, general manager of Morey Events, a sister company of the Long Island Press and producer of the Kioli Flea & Farmers’ Market. “We’ve combined local shopping for items like clothing and services with local farming, so people who are concerned with the word ‘kioli’ and what it stands for (keep it on Long Island) can support local farmers and producers.”
In 1940, Suffolk County had close to 120,000 acres of farm land, according to the Long Island Farm Bureau. That number barely makes it above 30,000 now. Without a demand for local produce, this number will keep decreasing.
“By offering this farmers market we create a demand,” says Palmer. “The more he sells the more he’ll grow, the more land he’ll buy.”
With this idea in mind, the Kioli Flea & Farmers Market will make its debut this weekend at the campus of SUNY Old Westbury, offering locally grown produce, baked goods and prepared gourmet foods in addition to the usual flea market fare.
“We’re taking this underground grassroots theory and blowing it up the same way we would for a Best Buy,” says Palmer, “by using a vehicle for news and ads to drive consumers to this market to ensure that people keep it on Long Island.”
Attias Flea Market
5750 Sunrise Hwy, Sayville. 631-244-5755. www.attiasfleamarket.com. Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sundays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Swap & Shop Flea Market
Green Acres Mall Parking Lot behind Sunrise Movie Theater, Sunrise Highway, Valley Stream. 516 825-6469. Saturdays & Sundays
Glen Cove Village Square MarketGlen Cove Village Square, Glen and Bridge Streets, Glen Cove. 516-759-6970. Sundays, 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Kioli Flea & Farmer’s Market
SUNY College at Old Westbury, Route 107, Old Westbury. 516-284-3300. www.kioli.org/flea. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m
Long Island Festival Flea Market
Brookhaven Amphitheatre at Bald Hill, CR 83, Farmingville. 631-920-2961. www.lifestivalfleamarket.com. Saturdays & Sundays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
121 Hempstead Tpke, West Hempstead. 516-486-5404. www.shoppersvillageisback.com. Fridays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays & Sundays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Tri County Flea Market
3041 Hempstead Tpke, Levittown. 516-579-4500. www.fleaman.com. Thursdays & Fridays, Noon-9 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.
East Meadow Farmers’ Market
Nassau University Medical Center, 2201 Hempstead Tpke, East Meadow. Fridays, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Opens mid-July.
Garden City Farmers’ Market
101 County Seat Dr., Garden City. Tuesdays, 7 a.m.-Noon. Opens mid-July.
Kennedy Plaza Farmers’ Market
1 W. Chester St., Long Beach. Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Kioli Flea & Farmer’s Market
SUNY College at Old Westbury, Route 107, Old Westbury. 516-284-3300. www.kioli.org/flea. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Locust Valley Farmers’ Market
Forest Avenue, Locust Valley. Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Opens mid-July
Port Washington Farmers’ Market
Town Dock, Main Street, Port Washington. Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon. Opens mid-July
East Hampton Farmers’ Market
Nick & Toni’s Restaurant Parking Lot, 136 N. Main St., East Hampton. Fridays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Hauppauge Farmers’ Market
DMV Parking Lot, 250 Veterans Hwy, Hauppauge. Wednesdays, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Opens mid-July
Northport Farmers’ Market
Northport Village Park. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-Noon
Patchogue Farmers’ Market
7-Eleven Parking Lot
225 E. Main St, Patchogue. Friday,
8 a.m.- 1 p.m. Opens mid-July
Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market
Breakwater Yacht Club Parking Lot
Bay and Burke Streets, Sag Harbor.
Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Westhampton Beach Farmers’ Market
85 Mill Rd, Westhampton. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.