This past weekend, we visited Dekalb Market, the first shipping container market in the US, and even we were impressed by its concentrated trendiness. The stores, housed in re-purposed containers, feature vintage fashion, environmentally friendly goods, and local, handmade items, while food vendors offer everything from soul food to cupcakes to pickles (ideal, perhaps, for the pregnant women in your life.) A small on-site farm provides produce and will serve as a classroom for lessons in rooftop gardening; BBox, a community radio station broadcasts live from the site; and plans for a beer garden are in the works, courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery and Brooklyn Bodega. In short, flea markets have moved up-market—you’ll find no fleas (and hopefully, no bedbugs, either) at Dekalb Market or its more established competitor, the Brooklyn Flea. In this age of Amazon and overnight shipping, though, why would people still seek out these antiquated experiences?
It may be, in part, due to exactly those time-saving services. In a recent New York Times article, Paul Moore, Professor of communication at Ryerson University in Toronto, noted that “Personal taste needs an urban space for fashion, like a flea market with an element of playfulness and randomness and spontaneity. We’ve got a nostalgia for outmoded, outdated and anachronistic items, especially when they’ve all been replaced by technologies.” Flea markets are also an important social outlet, allowing visitors to demonstrate their status by consuming local, vintage, and sustainable goods—or, as Professor Michael Prokopow the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, said, “I’m always amazed by these groups of cool young people, wandering around, looking for stuff, and I think, ‘If you didn’t have this venue, your performance of yourself wouldn’t be as complete.’ ”
For all the trendiness on display at Dekalb Market, what’s missing maybe be even more notable. Before it was a market, it was an empty lot, and before that, it was the site of the Albee Square Mall, a popular shopping destination that was even referenced in songs by Biz Markie and Jay-Z. However, the mall declined throughout the 90′s, and it was demolished in 2007 to make way for CityPoint, a mixed-use, LEED-certified development. Dekalb Market is the first phase of CityPoint, and while the unconventional container stores may attract shoppers today, they will soon be surrounded by more permanent shops, offices, and condos as part of a larger plan to turn downtown Brooklyn into a more liveable, 24/7 community. These plans have concerned long-time neighborhood vendors, though, who fear they are being driven out in favor of high-end retail and residential development.
As more people move to cities, the debates over developments like Dekalb Market and CityPoint will intensify as residents, businesses, and governments struggle to define the character of where they live, work, and play. Change is the only given: after all, in order the build the original Albee Square Mall, the old Albee Theater had to be destroyed. The good news is that development doesn’t necessarily mean displacement: Cuzin’s Duzin, a doughnut shop that was forced out when the mall closed, has reopened at Dekalb Market. (On that note, in the ongoing search for the “new cupcake,”— pie? macaroons? —we’re casting our vote for doughnuts.) With luck and cooperation, the Market and ensuing CityPoint will simply continue to be, as Biz Markie wisely noted years before, “a place where people shop in downtown Brooklyn.”