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A flea too many

Fleeing: Customers of the Brooklyn Flea have taken over most of East River State Park, giving it a county fair atmosphere.
Community Newspaper Group / Danielle Furfaro

Some Williamsburg residents are up in arms over the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, claiming the borough’s celebrations of tchotchke shopping and locavore meals have turned East River State Park into a circus.

The Brooklyn Flea and its Smorgasburg food bazaar, which run every Saturday and Sunday, draw thousands of visitors to the park each day. Neighbors complain that the vendors and customers have taken over the whole park, despite the fact that the commercial ventures together rent only a portion.

“Basically, we no longer have a park on the weekends,” said Peter Kos, who now has to look for somewhere else to entertain his four-year-old son. “I’m not going to bring my son somewhere where there are 300 25-year-olds hanging out.”

Some of the specific complaints about the markets are trash left in the park, broken glass in the grass and vendors who noisily unload their wares at daybreak.

But the critics’ biggest complaint is not the trash or the noise, but the very existence of the markets in the public park.

“I try to avoid North Seventh on the weekends,” said neighborhood resident Samantha Tannehill. “The influx of people is crazy.”

The markets relocated from a lot between N. Sixth and N. Seventh streets to the parkland between N. Seventh and N. Eighth streets at the beginning of April because their home of the past two seasons, a development site owned by Edge-builders Douglaston Development, is on the market.

For $1,500 a day, the Brooklyn Flea rents the smaller of the two slabs of concrete in the park. This past weekend, dozens of vendors were tightly packed onto the slab, with little room for people to move between the vendors. That meant that those perusing the flea spilled over to the picnic tables and grass at the other end, giving the whole park a county fair atmosphere.

That is unacceptable in any public park, say critics, let alone in a park in Williamsburg, which is so starved for open space.

“Clearly, this is not a park purpose,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates. “The public has every right to enjoy respite. It’s absurd that the public has to compete with a commercial endeavor.”

New York City Park Advocates has successfully sued the city for attempting to privatize parks in the past, and Croft says it will launch a lawsuit against Brooklyn Flea if that is what the neighborhood wants.

Eric Demby, one of the owners of Brooklyn Flea, said he has been working with neighbors to make sure that all complaints are addressed and that, in the past few weeks, the company has added security and sanitation.

“We hired a guy to come Sunday and Monday mornings to clean up the trash,” said Demby. “We will continue to make adjustments as we hear about concerns.”

When asked whether the markets are appropriate for the park, Demby said that is up to the state, which decided they were.

The state office of parks and recreation did not return repeated calls for comment, but when it announced the deal with the Brooklyn Flea, it said it did not think the markets would interfere with other uses.

Not everyone in the neighborhood thinks the markets have ruined the park, however.

“No one’s here unless the Flea is here,” said Julie Dickinson. “You can’t really do anything here. It’s not a very chill park.”

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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