City Living: Eastside Flea gives market modern twist

Organizers wanted to boost culture after death of Waldorf

The Eastside Flea isn’t your grandpa’s junk market. Under the tentacles of white string lights and chandeliers were tables of baked sweets and flowers from Fleur et Farine, cute and creepy drawings by Andrea Hooge, an assortment of vintage plates and a down powder puff for sale by Joanie MacKenzie, who was selling at the market this past Saturday at the WISE hall just for fun.

“I’m practically giving this stuff away,” she said.

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The Eastside Flea celebrated its first birthday three weeks ago. Friends and business partners Linda Ounapuu and Jill Whitford decided to start the market the Sunday after the Waldorf Hotel ceased to exist as one of Vancouver’s most popular creative spaces last year, proving that the will to be creative can be as resilient as climbing ivy no matter how often it’s cut down to make way for development.

“We were sitting there, in my living room and said, ‘let’s do something ourselves,’” said Ounapuu. “We felt that if we don’t get on this, somebody else is going to.”

Traditional flea markets may dig up old memories for some of roaming endless rows of tables full of items such as jumper cables with one missing clamp or piles of old licence plates waiting to be purchased by somebody halfway through life wanting décor for his Mexican bar. Even the name “flea market” has somewhat unpleasant origins as it was coined from the outdoor markets of Paris, France where used furniture was often infested with the blood-sucking parasites.

“What we’re trying to do is put a current twist on flea markets,” said Whitford, a graduate from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business. “We’re bringing in modern goods that people actually want to buy and come seeking.” Ounapuu added that there are regular sellers mixed with new sellers. “It’s the feeling of it being a different market every time you come. You never know what you’re going to find.”

Inspiration came a couple years ago when a friend took Ounapuu to the Brooklyn Flea during a 24-hour layover in New York. “It was a mix of modern, small businesses, people making Popsicles at home and selling them under umbrellas, vintage sellers — this is what a flea market should be! Not about some dusty, musty old lady stuff,” she said.

Ounapuu and Whitford also saw similarities between the two cities and their struggles to keep arts and culture alive amidst development. The Brooklyn Flea began six years ago by organizers who were concerned about the city’s cultural community after the closure of several Manhattan markets. Founders Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby grew the market to include 150 vendors with a focused community, which echoes the Eastside Flea’s goal, said Ounapuu.

“And we really wanted to do something on the East Side of town,” she added. “East Van definitely has a do-it-yourself feel and anything goes. People here are generally into vintage, they’re socially conscious…”

Which perfectly describes vendor Leigh Burrows of Remixd Clothing and Collectables. Burrows is an Eastside Flea regular who started working as a picker — somebody who sorts through mountains of clothing in rag houses to find the good stuff — five years ago and has since started Remixd. Small town thrift stores are her favourite sources for inventory because, as she says, people have different values in different places.

“I find old rock T-shirts, old denim from the ’60s or Western wear… I bring it back here and everybody loves it,” Burrows said. “Walking into a thrift store is like Christmas day, it really is. I really like what I’m doing because I’m recycling things and recycled items nowadays are a much higher quality than a lot of the stuff you can buy new. It’s very important for me for people to understand that this is a good thing to do.”

And, with the growing popularity of the modern flea market, The Eastside Flea included, sellers like Burrows will have opportunity to educate on the value of used for the foreseeable future.

Eastside Flea joins forces with The Eastside Artisan’s Company for the Eastside Artisan’s Market this Saturday at the Woodward’s atrium from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Eastside Flea also presents the UBC Spring Market March 31 and April 1-2 at 6138 Student Union Blvd. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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