Weekend Warriors: The Vendors of the 11th Street Flea Market

flea1Vanessa Yurkevich

The “Flea Market King” isn’t the only character at the Mary Help of Christians Church market every weekend: the parking-lot bazaar at Avenue A and East 11th Street has been around for more than two decades, and some of its vendors have been there just as long. Even in these winter months, they bundle up on Saturdays and Sundays hoping to make a bundle of cash. Today, The Local salutes just some of these weekend warriors.


flea8Vanessa Yurkevich

Steve Simpson: The Musician
Originally from North Carolina, Steve Simpson has lived in the East Village for thirty-five years. Before he started selling clothes, shoes, electronics, and DVDs in the mid-90s, he made his money as a singer in the Catskills. Mr. Simpson said he likes his job – he’s his own boss, after all. Just follow the music and you’ll find him: “I am always playing music,” he said. “That’s how I get my customers.”

flea2Vanessa Yurkevich

Jimmy “Mac” Stewart: The Computer Guy
In the 1980s, Jimmy “Mac” got his start D.J.ing at clubs like the Roxy. Now he spins beats in his home state of New Jersey, using a Mac computer much like the ones he’s been selling at the flea market for 12 years. The self-trained repairman said he buys broken laptops and desktops from Ebay or Craigslist and refurbishes them, then sells them for $50 to $400. He often repairs computers for whatever customers can afford. “If you give back, you keep people coming back, through word of mouth,” he said. “You don’t get anywhere trying to triple your money.”

flea3Vanessa Yurkevich

Carlos Reyes: The Bike Doctor
Off and on for about twenty years, Carlos Reyes has been selling 1960s and 70s bicycles. Originally from Puerto Rico, Mr. Reyes spends his time in the Bronx buying bikes at auctions and fixing them up so that he can charge between $80 and $200 for them. He said he realized the business was profitable when he started fixing delivery men’s bikes. “In the Lower East Side, I saw bikes chained up outside all over, so I saw that a lot of bikes get used,” said Mr. Reyes. “I saw the money you could make.”

flea4Vanessa Yurkevich

Arnold Kablan: The Sunglasses Man
One of the newest vendors to the market is Arnold Kablan. He’s been selling sunglasses for $5 a pop for about a month now. He lives in the Bronx and buys the sunglasses wholesale on 127th Street. Mr. Kablan moved to the United States from the Ivory Coast of Africa in 1986 and has worked in retail establishments like Walmart ever since. He said he doesn’t make much money at the market: between the $40-per-weekend rental fee and the subway and taxi ride to and from the Bronx, he breaks about even. “I come because I don’t want to stay home,” he said.

flea5Vanessa Yurkevich

Miriam Flores: The Sequin Lady
Last year Miriam Flores had to close her Brooklyn store, Flores Antiques, because she couldn’t afford the rent. But almost every weekend for the past six years she has brought racks of clothing to the market, shipped to her from Texas by a friend. The Honduran native sells flannel shirts, t-shirts, and cargo pants; her most popular items are sequined shirts, dresses, and skirts. Most of her customers, she said, are “girls who live in the area, and from [New York] University,” who buy her sparkly duds for $20 to $25 dollars a pop.

flea6Vanessa Yurkevich

Bernada Ortiz: The Enforcer
With a strong work ethic and no nonsense attitude, Bernada Ortiz, a native Puerto Rican and an East Village resident of more than sixty years, manages the garage out of which Mary Help of Christians operates. She said the books, clothes, and CDs the church sells are donated – some by the other vendors. Ms. Ortiz has overseen the site – and the three employees who move items and boxes at her direction – for fifteen years.