Flea market meeting gets heated

Brownstoner Flea organizers Eric Demby (left) and Jonathan Butler (Borough President Markowitz) were all smiles when their market opened in April. But now, both men have come under fire from neighbors.
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

Shoppers and merchants rallied last weekend in support of a popular flea market against criticism that the weekly bazaar has become a nuisance for neighboring residents and churchgoers.

The three-month-old Brooklyn Flea, held on Sundays on the Bishop Loughlin HS blacktop, had been widely seen as a community and commercial success until last Thursday when church members gathered at Queens of All Saints on Lafayette Avenue to denounce the swap meet for the loss of parking, an increase in litter and as an affront to the Sabbath.

“They shoved something in the community’s face like, ‘Bam!” said opponent Carol Allen. “If something that’s established suddenly changes — and something commercial comes in on the Sabbath — you can be upset.”

The Flea, held on Lafayette Avenue between Clermont and Vanderbilt avenues, might not celebrate the Almighty, but it’s not only about worshipping the almighty dollar either.

“It’s a neighborhood thing and it’s low key,” said Nick Gaffney.

Other shoppers toasted the swap meet’s organizers for creating a nice local attraction.

But Flea fans’ notion that the marketplace has been a boost to Fort Greene and Clinton Hill offends some long-term community residents.

“There’s an undercurrent that they’re bringing civilization to the natives,” said Ernest Augustus, a board member at Cadman Memorial Congregation Church on Lafayette Avenue.

The event’s organizers, which include Jonathan Butler, the founder of Brownstoner.com, a Web site, do not believe that the Flea is part of the borough’s ongoing gentrification war.

“Fort Greene is a special thing and we’re just trying to add to that,” said co-founder Eric Demby, a former staffer for Borough President Markowitz. “We have provided a space for people to meet and gather in an old-fashioned town square.”

And after hearing the complaints last week, Demby reiterated that the Flea has a cleaning crew and security detail to keep pedestrian and vehicular traffic moving smoothly. Nonetheless, some residents share the church-goers’ concerns.

“There’s no parking at all and my vehicle was banged up by a vendor,” said Ramesh Kauden, who’s lived on Carlton Avenue for 40 years.

Last Thursday’s meeting got heated, but by this week, Demby was putting a positive spin on all the hostility he and Butler had encountered: “We finally had the conversation we needed to have, so hopefully we can put all of this behind us,” he said.

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