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Jan 1, 2020

Saying Good-bye to the Chelsea Flea Market

Friends, it's never easy to say good-bye to something or someone you love.

As of last weekend, the Chelsea Flea Market is no more.  The market itself was, frankly, a shadow of its former self.  Where it once filled multiple outdoor and indoor lots, in the last few years it was reduced to a single outdoor parking lot.  The management seemed to have grown increasingly hostile to the vendors, which was sad to see.  More recently, there weren't even enough vendors to fill all the available spaces.  Still, I never stopped going, if not every weekend, then certainly a few times a month.  It was an endless source of inspiration to me.

I didn't start blogging about the market till 2010, but I'd been attending the flea market on and off since 1990.  So many things in my apartment came from the market: furniture, housewares, books, sewing patterns, countless sewing machines, vintage clothing, bric a brac -- you name it.

Oh yeah, and FABRIC for so many of my sewing projects, including:

Vintage rayon crepe for Cathy's 1940's McCall's dress.

Vintage 1970's stars and stripes cotton canvas.

Vintage Marimekko panel print from flea market.

Vintage cotton floral fabric from Chelsea flea market.

I became friendly with many of the vendors and recognized so many of the regular shoppers, not to mention celebrities I'd see there from time to time, from Parker Posey to Catherine Deneuve.

There are many reasons why the flea market closed, among them real estate pressures, changing shopping habits, and eBay.  Still, it seems tragic that a world-class city like New York can't maintain this.  Of course, there are other smaller markets around Manhattan and a few of the outer boroughs.  We still have many local street fairs where vintage items are sold, along with thrift stores and other antique shops.  But for me, since I lived only a few blocks away, the Chelsea Flea Market was unsurpassed in convenience and, of course, treasures.

My friend Johanna and I visited the market together regularly, followed by brunch at my apartment.

Every MPB Day, I would take a smaller group of early-birds to the market for an hour or so of treasure hunting.  There's a building full of antique dealers directly across the street so we can go there instead.  There's a lot of interesting stuff but nowhere near as random nor as cheap.

Alas, things change.  Maybe a new market will replace the Chelsea market.  It's possible but I'm not sure how likely.

You can read more about the closing of the market here.

Do you think younger people are less interested in digging through old stuff than the baby boomer generation?  Maybe they have different priorities or simply less space.

If you're interested in some of my jaunts to the Chelsea Flea Market over the years, you can check "flea market" in my archives.  These include a few other markets as well but mostly Chelsea.

I wish everyone a happy new year and, if you're a flea market aficionado like me, a year of fruitful treasure hunting.

Happy sewing, everybody!


  1. Omg, I was hoping to shop there one day. I love a good flea market. There were two in Michigan that I loved to shop at and both were sold for big box home improvement stores. There were indoors so bad weather didn't effect it. You could get everything from jewelry, used clothes, new furniture, rugs, cheese, lunch and top it off with a tattoo. We bought our wedding bands there.
    I don't know why shoppers would be dwindling at the Chelsea because I thought the younger generation wanted to recycle and buying used lessened the pressure on resources.
    Also, I loved seeing your photos of the market. Thanks again for a great blog.

  2. The Gen Z kids in my family pushed for a sustainable holiday this year, so all of our gifts were vintage-thrift-repurposed-upcycled. It was cool and fun & I think we'll continue the tradition. We can't be the only ones thinking this way---so with this in mind I suspect the secondhand marketplace is going to expand. That likely won't be good for prices, but maybe we'll have more opportunities to shop? I'm sorry to hear about the Chelsea Flea, but maybe it will re-form into something equally wonderful?

  3. great read, as always. sounds like my kind of place! i'm always sorry to hear places like this going away. and, as a funny aside: that last photo is of a Sillisculpt, made by R&W Berrie Company. i collect them -- i think i have around 1000 at this point (no exaggeration). they are getting harder to find, but boomers and gen-xers like me remember them. my personal theory is that the Funko Pop figures that millennials and zoomers collect will be their Sillisculpts when they get older, but we'll see.

    1. I had a whole collection of those Russ & Berry figurines too (including a HUGE "I Love You THIS Much" figure) but I gave them away.

    2. haha - i have two or three of those big ones! they are pretty hard to find. that's the one most people think of, too, with his arms outstretched like a little kid. my favorites are the teeny tiny ones that are mostly animals with puns, maybe a couple inches tall.

  4. I'm a bit surprised because overhere in Belgium, thrifting and flea markets are more popular than ever! Sad!

  5. That's too bad. I immediately thought of you when I read of its closing because you went there so often.
    Happy New Year anyway.

  6. This is so sad! We lost our proper flea markets decades ago and now the places that call themselves flea markets sell mostly cheap plastic toys and used work tools obtained through questionable methods.

    My view of the younger generation is skewed because I only know youngsters who are into sewing and/or sustainability, but they are all crazy about vintage stuff, love to go thrifting, and would be in heaven if they could go to a market like the one in Chelsea.

  7. Bummer on Chelsea closing. I don't see a lot of young people at the few flea markets I get to. By young, I mean in their 20s. I start seeing more as they get into their 30s & 40s (still young to me). I think the ones that go are looking for things they can use day-to-day life right away, not things that need "a bit of fixin' up" or need special care like silver/silver plate or china and glassware that can't be machine washed. They seem to look for things seen on 70s-80s TV re-runs, early computer & game items, etc. I suspect it's a combination of things - school loans, small living quarters, just starting in jobs, haven't had time to develop a collecting area of interest (buying back their childhood), etc.

  8. I'm so sorry to hear this. So many good memories!

  9. It had always been a dream of mine to visit that, and I waited too long. I'm still grieving the loss of my favorite vintage store, Deluxe Junk (and it's been over a decade, so it's a lot of tears). My kids are devoted thrifters in their 20s, as are their friends.
    I will miss your (and Mr King's) finds, and extend my condolences to one and all. A sad day.

  10. Sad to hear. I always enjoyed your rambles through there.

  11. Where is all the charm in the world going???

  12. Do you think it is also a problem of fewer vendors? With the premium prices one can get on ebay, fewer would bother to sell at a flea market. Also younger people are less likely to exert the effort and time of selling at a flea market. It is sad about it closing :(

    1. In this particular case I think it's more about development pressures and poor management.

  13. Ann Baker Dublin IrelandApril 7, 2020 at 6:36 AM

    Here in Dublin we have lost our flea, brocante and vintage markets due to building projects. I miss rummaging around for vintage sewing items, have bought many over the years at the Dublin Flea, and feel that developers do not think of the loss to a city when something like this happens. We are in lockdown at the moment due to COVID19 and I have spent a few days organizing my sewing room and look at all the lovely items I have rescued over the years from Landfill... hopefully you will get a new market, I missed out on the Chelsea one when I was in New York a few years ago.. Stay safe and well, greetings from Dublin. Ann


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