"What's Brooklyn about?" The Flea, in a way, as it feeds "this bottomless, infinite need for stories about Brooklyn"
A few excerpts... and comments.
Q. It’s interesting to think that Brooklyn’s identity as a place was so different just a few years ago. It hadn’t really been defined in the way it has been since. There was no sort of obvious way for people to get their heads around what exactly Brooklyn was, and why it was so great. A lot of people point to the Flea as something that really catalyzed that, or captured it. Was there an intent on your part to do that?
A. There was definitely some intent, although I don’t think either of us would have used those words at that time.
Working for Marty…one of his major initiatives was always putting Brooklyn on the map. Brooklyn was the only borough with its own tourism center, and as a communications director for the borough president, I was kind of an ad hoc clearinghouse for press. We’d get emails from journalists all the time, saying things like, “I want to do a story about Brooklyn for a Japanese magazine. Where should I go?”
And there was a list of places to go, but it was kind of weird. We’d always ask ourselves, “What’s Brooklyn about?” You could go eat at Diner. You could go to Coney Island and ride the Cyclone, or walk across the bridge and go to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. There are icons, but none that really capture what Brooklyn is all about. What I’d always try to convey to those journalists was that what you really want to do is just wander around a place like Fort Greene on a Saturday and think, “Wow, this is a really cool vibe.” Ha ha.
I think one of the things that has made the Flea what it is, is that it captured that in some way. It emerged as a sort of partial cross-section of people and things that make Brooklyn great. It’s got all these people trafficking in everything from vintage furniture to eyeglass frames to t-shirts, taxidermy and salt water taffy.... You can go to the Flea and you can have an authentic experience that’s actually not manufactured.
Yet, I'd add, there's another iconic "Brooklyn" out there: Brooklyn We Go Hard and Brooklyn's Finest. And there are even more Brooklyn's, too.
The early days: a boom
Q. Tell me a little bit about those early days?
A. ...Twenty thousand people came to the first Flea, so we really knew right away that it could be big. The weather was terrible, with this cold, sprinkly rain, but we had gotten some great early press and the turnout was huge. A DJ friend of mine called Small Change had agreed to sell records at the Flea, and the Times ran a full-page story on that in the Style section a few months before the market debuted. The Red Hook Ballfield food vendors joined, and that had gotten all the food bloggers going. New York Magazine ran a full three-page guide to the market the week before we launched. The New York Times came to opening day and set up a photo shoot in the softball backstop. They took pictures of people all day, and ran it on the front page of the Style section the following week…
It was unbelievable. This all happened within a period of two weeks, and right in the middle of it was the first Flea, and twenty thousand people showed up.
Then the Times and everybody started running stories about the food. We started getting national and even international press by the summer. So that all happened right away and that was when we realized there was this bottomless, infinite need for stories about Brooklyn.
A bottomless, infinite need for certain kinds of stories about Brooklyn. Not necessarily ones that dig into the power structure or follow boring process-y things like environmental review and blight.