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Flea market where Andy Warhol shopped has sold its last collectible
People browse the offerings at the Chelsea Flea Market in New York on the final day, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. The market, which opened more than 40 years ago, has lost its lease in a now-gentrified neighborhood. Gabby Jones/The New York Times.

by Katie Van Syckle



NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- Andy Warhol would arrive at the flea markets on the West Side of Manhattan before noon on Sundays in an old Dodge convertible.

It was the 1980s, and on weekends, the parking lots near West 25th Street and Sixth Avenue were filled with vendors selling tchotchkes, collectibles and fine antiques.

“A friend told him you need to go to the flea market to get new and great ideas,” said Alan Boss, who opened the first space in 1976 and said he would often shoo away autograph-seeking fans as Warhol shopped.

Boss watched Warhol build collections: “He bought vintage watches. He bought cookie jars. Nobody cared about cookie jars until he started collecting them.”

“But it is all over,” Boss, 80, said.

After 43 years, the Annex Antiques Fair and Flea Market, once a sprawling collection of hundreds of vendors, closed Sunday. It had lost the lease on its last patch of asphalt at 29 W. 25th St.

Once New York City’s largest flea market, that included seven separate lots over the years, the spaces were known for their fine antiques that occasionally landed in museum collections. It was the city’s version of famous bazaars like Portobello Road Market in London and the Marche aux Puces in Paris. The lots, which drew the city’s creative community, also helped to shape Chelsea into an arts district.

Jeremiah Moss, the author of “Vanishing New York,” a book exploring the impact of gentrification on 21st-century New York, said the closing of the Annex markets is another example of a loss of the qualities that made the city unique.

“What I’ve witnessed, is that all of these idiosyncratic spaces, when they’re destroyed, they’re invariably replaced by something very uniform and sanitized,” he said.

The parking lot where the last market stood is owned by an LLC of which Lawrence Friedland, the real estate developer, is an officer. Boss leased his space from Manhattan Parking Group on the weekends. The landlords did not renew the agreement, Boss said. Representatives from Manhattan Parking Group and Friedland Properties did not respond to requests for comment.

Boss said he hoped to find another location, but he was not sure where that would be. “The current location was the last available lot of any size,” he said.

Boss, the son of a Bronx grocer, opened the first flea market on Sixth Avenue between 24th and 25th Streets when Manhattan’s West Side blocks were still filled with printing companies and sewing machine shops. He had been inspired by the time he spent antiquing with the family of his wife, Helene Boss, he said.

He opened his first market with 11 vendors. As the venues grew during the 1980s and 1990s, crowds of shoppers descended on the neighborhood.

The spaces became a hub for New York’s creative community, said Michael Rips, author of “The Golden Flea,” a book on the history of the Chelsea Flea Market, set to be published in the spring.

“The evolution of Chelsea, ultimately as an art district, can really be seen as an extension of what happened here,” Rips said.

Real estate development in the 1990s in Chelsea edged out the spaces, and the locations shifted. Boss opened the Antiques Garage on West 25th Street in 1994, and it closed in 2014. He opened the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market on West 39th Street in 2003, and that closed in 2018.

At the Chelsea location, vendors typically paid $225 per day for a 10-by-10-foot booth. Shoppers paid $5 to enter from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., and $1 after that.

Vendors have complained of mistreatment and erratic behavior by the Bosses, specifically by Helene Boss, who began managing the space seven years ago. Some vendors say this behavior has also contributed to the decline of the markets.

Larry Baumhor, 65, a former vendor at the Antiques Garage for 15 years who has continued to frequent the flea market on 25th Street, said he heard Helene Boss using racial and homophobic slurs, yelling at vendors and reprimanding them for minor infractions.

“She would verbally abuse people,” he said. “She drove a lot of people away from the market.”

Helene Boss denies these allegations.

“I don’t abuse vendors,” she said. “I love my vendors. They are like my family.”

She added: “Anyone that has a complaint, it is because I don’t go along with their agenda. I have given them a place to make a living in a safe, clean environment.”

On the Annex market’s last day, a small crew of about 25 vendors displayed their wares in 40-degree temperatures as tourists speaking in Italian circled the parking lot. Down the block was a luxury high-rise tower, where studio apartments rent for $4,000 a month.

Joe Burns, 81, was selling objects that included a pair of silver glittery loafers, a book by Jackie Collins and a cat poster. He works as an artist during the day and does not have another form of income.

“We don’t know what is going to happen to us,” he said.

He has sold goods in Chelsea since 1988 after he closed the Joe Burns Restaurant, his namesake eatery on First Avenue near 51st Street in Manhattan, when he could no longer afford the rent.

Paul Jeromack, 60, a Manhattan art dealer, said he has traveled to Chelsea since the 1980s, and never knows what he will discover.

He has sold several of his finds to the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the years, including an antique 19th-century green vase.

“It is not like when I walk in, I think I’ll find a Louis Solon pâte-sur-pâte piece,” he said, referring to that find. “Things just turn up.”

Jeromack said he has not found a substitute. Places like the Brooklyn Flea, founded in 2008, tend to focus more on food, crafts and collectibles. They do not have as many antiques and do not hold the same appeal to him as a collector.

“There are a few dealers that sell old things,” he said, “but not enough for me to make the trip.”

That’s why the city still needs a flea market, Boss said: “Everything now is a Chase bank or CVS or a 45-story building.”

© 2019 The New York Times Company










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