June 24, 2014
Iconic Antiques Garage Closing The Doors
In New York City, it is the end of an era, as booming real estate development has finally caught up with Chelsea’s almost famous The Antiques Garage. It was among the last of the garages that on weekends would be transformed into a flea market.
The garage was featured on TLC’s Flea Market Flip and other reality series and was notable in that it was open almost year round. The garage, which during the week was used for parking, was one of many in the Chelsea neighborhood in Central Manhattan of New York that was all but empty on weekends.
In the 1970s, as crime rose in the city, tourists didn’t exactly head to what at the time was still light industry, bars and offices. However, the empty lots found a use as flea markets in the 1970s. Chelsea entrepreneur Alan Boss started off with just 11 vendors in 1976, but by the 1990s that number had grown to more than 600 vendors and the markets expanded to include a string of corner lots along Sixth Avenue.
The markets became upscale and soon antique shops opened in the buildings around the flea markets. Rummaging started early every Saturday morning and pickers and deal hunters would be out as early as 4am, while day-trippers and tourists returned and found decorative arts, furniture and various bric-a-brac.
All good things come to an end.
The flea markets declined not because people lost interest or because the neighborhood went downhill. Actually, the opposite happened. Chelsea became more upscale and fashionable as crime in New York fell. Chelsea became part of the northern end of Silicon Valley with the West Village and Soho flanking it. Thus, the small parking lots soon were bought up and high rise buildings replaced them.
Some New Yorkers, including a friend of this writer, bemoan the loss of the markets.
As someone who was there for the final glory days, I also attribute the loss to the growth of online commerce. Sure, it was nice to troll around the flea markets looking for bargains, but the truly “good old days” were gone as soon as the tourists and day-trippers arrived. If you weren’t at the markets by 8am, the best deals were gone and the markets pretty much picked over.
All is not lost for the vendors, though. Many will relocate to The West 25th Street Market or the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, and likely it could start anew. No, it won’t be the same, but things change.
For the record, even those European markets have declined. The Paris markets have been overtaken by vendors selling t-shirts and jeans, and it takes a lot of walking through cheap products to truly reach the antique markets, which aren’t what they used to be. Portabello Road is still a must-see destination for anyone with a few hours on Saturday morning to kill, while Bermondsey is a shadow of its former glory days. The same neighborhood revitalization that killed New York’s markets resulted in the end of Bermondsey.
Let’s face it, parking lots are something that most urban areas can’t afford, especially not when an underground garage can provide as many spaces. However, in this era, most luxury apartments and office buildings don’t need the hassle of allowing vendors to cart in junk week, after week, as the old antique garage apparently did.
Progress has a way of sometimes changing things. For Chelsea, it is a nicer place to work and live, but for those looking for a bargain, it is easier to head to eBay.
Image Credit: Malcolm Brown