Famous Chelsea Flea Market Hub To Close And A History of The Chelsea Area Flea Markets (see update)
UPDATE November 2014: The flea market has finally closed three years after we reported the imminent closing and demolition is underway. The remaining outdoor flea market on 25th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway charges $1 admission for a sub-par experience. Below the update is our original story on the history of the flea markets in the Sixth Avenue corridor.
UPDATE December 24, 2011: The flea market thankfully remains open. Dealers don’t seem to know what the future holds. Speaking to several exhibitors they have not been told how long they will remain. So keep your fingers crossed, maybe Extell will not build until market conditions improve.
According to a dealer at The Antiques Garage at 112 West 25th Street, the last stalwart of what was once a thriving antique center in Chelsea, is closing in the near future.
The Antiques Garage which has over 100 dealers selling all sorts of merchandise every Saturday and Sunday will be torn down and replaced by a hotel and condos. The developer, Extell Realty bought the garage in 2006 for $42.7 million. The dealers who exhibit have been told that Extell will soon begin demolition and this month is to be their last.
In the mid 1980’s the parking lots and vacant lots in Manhattan from 24th to 27th Streets, just east and west of 6th Avenue, had developed into a weekend cornucopia of junk and treasure. Lower end antique dealers, second hand junk collectors, and abandoned storage unit scavengers set up shop, providing the public with endless browsing and purchasing opportunities. You could find everything from mundane items to rare and valuable objects.
I started going when these markets opened in the early 1980’s. Over the years I found a great four stack antique wood filing cabinet, art deco electric clocks, various nick-nacks and some rare New York City atlases. My best find was the original Renoir painting which I paid $45 for and later sold at Sotheby’s for $26.4 million dollars. Okay, that never happened, but I’m still hopeful.
As word spread in the late eighties and early nineties about bargains to be had, guidebooks, magazines and newspapers started writing up this unique area as a must see place when in New York. Celebrity sightings became frequent. By the mid nineties, thousands of visitors were coming to this somewhat rundown, commercial neighborhood just south of the old New York flower market which once housed most of the wholesale flower dealers in New York. Decorators and professional antique hunters would get to the Chelsea flea markets around dawn armed with flashlights. As dawn would break, dealers unpacking their fresh unique items, would be quickly snatched up by those in the know.
A zoning law change in the nineties meant redevelopment was imminent. This zoning change would spur real estate development and slowly spell the end of this area of Chelsea for the eclectic dealers and the outdoor flea markets.
The first victim was not an outdoor space. The Chelsea Antiques Building, a turn-of-the- century twelve story commercial building, was entirely chock full of interesting shops and stalls. Around 1997, the dealers were told to vacate and it was converted to high end apartments. An apartment recently sold there for $4 million dollars. In the late nineties the smaller parking and vacant lots were bought up by developers and weekend flea market lots were quickly disappearing. Eventually, in 2005 the main outdoor flea market stretching from 26th to 27th street fronting the east side of Sixth Avenue was developed and the dealers relocated to West 39th street as the Hells Kitchen Flea Market. New, large, pricey apartment buildings now stand on these Chelsea lots.
The lone remaining outdoor 25th Street flea market is a shadow of what was once an exciting district for browsers and collectors. There are some antique shops remaining in the area around 25th street, but the flea market atmosphere and life blood of this area is dwindling with this latest casualty.