When the news broke that Dekalb Market would have to move to a new location in October in order to make room for the fast-forwarded construction of the City Point retail and housing complex, everyone wondered where the market would go, how it would change, whether it would last, and, perhaps most importantly, whether it would retain the same qualities that had made it so popular to begin with – the spirit of entrepreneurship, the diversity of goods and food, the sheer coolness and uniqueness of the place, and the sense of community it fostered.
The short answer, according to Dekalb Market organizers, is that the market will relocate to somewhere that is accessible by public transportation, keep as many vendors as are willing to stay, use the same shipping containers, stay put as long as people keep socializing and shopping there, and adhere to the same philosophy and mission as it does now.
The long answer is a little more complex. But listen to the stories, reactions and relationships between customers, vendors and organizers, and you’ll get an idea of the cultural impact, economic development significance, and long-term viability of the project and brand that Dekalb Market has become.
Nathalie Kraynina, a recent graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, is one of several designers who showcase and sell handmade clothing and accessories at their collaborative shop, 50°C. “We’re all small time, trying to make it for the first time,” she said while arranging items from her clothing line that manage to be both functional and stylish. “For me, it’s been great, getting exposure. I’ve been here since April after I was approached by a friend of mine, Anastasia Andino, who does the hats here.”
On the advantages of working at the market, Kraynina explained that “it’s been really great for us to get to meet our customers and see how everything fits” and “people like that it’s handmade, special, and unique.” She added that she hopes that a new location might give them all more exposure to new customers and neighborhoods.
The opportunity to band together, learn from one another and split costs in a tough business and a rough economy is another perk for creative vendors like Kraynina and her fellow designers, as well as the artisans over at the Etsy Artist Assembly storefront on the other side of the market.
Inside this 20-by-8 foot container with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall in front, a carefully curated variety of items are showcased, all handmade by seven different Etsy NY artists who are selected each season by the assembly. Currently, the display consists of a blend of handbags, wallets, men’s and women’s accessories, air plants, photography, watches, stationery, pillowcases and other home goods. “We curate based on what we think the market needs [that season],” said Jason Sinclair, an Etsy NY board member who makes custom furniture and lamps out of reclaimed wood, iron plumbing, copper and more.
“It’s easier for us because [the business] is managed between a group of people, [but] it’s a mixed bag,” he said. “The location is kind of difficult since we don’t get a ton of foot traffic.”
Among the potential locations in Brooklyn, Sinclair ruminated that while “Gowanus has the same difficulty as here, in a long-term view, it might be the spot. Eric Demby and the Brooklyn Flea got in [to Fort Greene] early and developed a brand in a neighborhood that developed with him.”
Regarding the new location, “we’ve got a couple of things [we’re considering], but cannot say yet,” said Eldon Scott, president of Urban Space NYC, which is one of the market’s organizers. Wherever the market ends up, Scott said that “for now, [they’re] thinking about keeping the name ‘Dekalb Market’ because it has built a following around that.”
According to Scott, the reborn market will also remain focused on continuing to maintain and build this community and opportunities for entrepreneurship by quality people with quality goods in an environmentally, economically and culturally sustainable way.
Primary considerations for a location are size, accessibility by public transportation, and affordability. Rent for a 20-by-8-foot container is currently $1,200 per month, while rent for a 10-by-8 foot container is $800 per month. The current top three possibilities are rumored to be Gowanus, Downtown Brooklyn and East Williamsburg/Bushwick. However, people have their own wish lists, as well.
“We would come back, but it depends on where,” said Berlin Tellado and Dalila Oquerdo, who live nearby. “Downtown Brooklyn or even Red Hook would be good because that’s up-and-coming. I guess if it were within five miles, we would. But we so need it here; it’s sad that they’re going to go.”
When the market – and the shipping container that serves as his store – moves in three months, Gary Hernandez said he may or may not go with it. “I can’t commit until I know where,” he said. “If it’s anywhere from Flatbush to Gowanus, maybe. If it’s up to Williamsburg, I might want to open elsewhere.”
Hernandez’s store, called Far, Far and Away, opened in November, selling vintage comic books and collectible figurines the likes of Star Wars and Charlie’s Angels, all of them either from his own collection or those of friends and online sales. “Every day, I hear someone say ‘oh, I had that,’ or ‘oh, my mom threw that away.’”
Wherever he goes next, Hernandez said that the opportunity to have his own storefront has been invaluable. “Overall, this has been a great experience. It has led me to know that I can do this and it can be successful.”
Donut-maker Todd Jones also credits Dekalb Market with helping to foster the success of his mini-donut business, Cuzins Duzin.
“I was a tenant at Albee Square mall for 13 years [before joining] street festivalas, weddings and corporate events,” said Jones, who owns the business with seven cousins. “Now we have new customers from hipsters – they are the ones who write on Yelp.com. So we’ve been featured [in newspapers] and got the Google Halloween party. Next, we want to expand.”
In the meantime, Jones said they “absolutely will move with the market… What’s important is for all these large businesses to incorporate small businesses because we make [neighborhoods] vibrant.”
According to Joann Kim-Nuñez, project manager at Dekalb Market, harnessing the talents and creative energy of small business owners, musicians and other artists has always been and will continue to be their mission. “Wherever we go, that mission stays,” she said.
And between now and October, “we’re going all out” with everything from baby meetups and Ladies night to pop-up yoga and knitting lessons. On a larger scale is the Rong Music Block Party and the return of the popular Down & Derby Roller Skating event.