Undiscovered New York: Flea market mania

Here at Undiscovered New York, we often find ourselves wondering why our city is so expensive. It’s usually the first question from friends and family who come to visit us here in New York, and truthfully, they’re kind of right. Want a beer? That’ll be $7 (plus tip). Headed to a Broadway show? $60 for the cheap seats. Hotel room? Unless you’re staying at the Hotel Carter, expect to pay at least $100-$200 per night.

But as New Yorkers will tell you, there’s plenty of places to get a bargain if you know where to look. That is especially true when it comes to weekend flea market hunting, the city’s unofficial hobby. Whether it’s vintage clothing or costume jewelry, antique furniture or formica countertops, rare vinyl or a delicious vanilla pastry, New York’s flea markets offer a little something for everyone. And the best part is, New York’s vibrant community of artists and independent craftmakers ensure there’s just as much new merchandise for sale at flea markets as there is old gems.

So forget about blowing your vacation savings at Saks Fifth Avenue or down in SoHo. This week, Undiscovered New York is taking you inside some of New York City’s best flea markets and telling you where to find them. Click below for our picks of the best.
Annex / Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

For the past 15 years, one of New York’s best flea markets was along 24th and 25th street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. That all ended in 2008, when rising rents forced the market to close and move shop. Thankfully, the change has been for the best, combining the fantastic variety of Chelsea’s once thriving vendor scene with the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market on West 39th Street.

The market now combines an enormous range of items, everything from African tribal artifacts to Mid-Century Modern furniture to fine silver. It’s one of the first stops for the city’s bargain hunters and those on the lookout for a truly unique item to decorate their apartment, in New York or beyond.

Brooklyn Flea
True to the quirky and eclectic tastes of its neighborhood’s residents, the Brooklyn Flea is among the newest additions to New York’s wide array of weekend shopping markets. First opened in 2008, this smallish market is held each Saturday in the courtyard of Fort Greene’s Bishop Laughlin Memorial High School and during colder months at two smaller “pop-up” markets in DUMBO. Don’t let the size fool you though – what this market lacks in size it more than makes up in a very well curated selection of items and great food.

In addition to a great selection of vintage records, the market stocks a nice mix of interesting vendors selling home furnishings, jewelry handcrafted by local artisans and some of the best food this side of the East River. Even if you’re not the shopping type, it’s a fun place to spend a weekend afternoon chowing down on a delicious taco and checking out the crowd. If you want a unique New York souvenir, check out the vendor who sells vintage tin ceiling tiles!

The Market (Nolita)
Each weekend, a crowd of visiting trend hunters descends on Nolita, a hip neighborhood “North of Little Italy” that is home to a large number of boutiques and unique businesses. But before they browse Nolita’s sometimes pricey shops, New York City bargain-hunters head straight for The Market, a weekend market for young designers on Manhattan’s Mulberry Street. Unlike the Annex / Hell’s Kitchen market, Nolita’s The Market is all about brand new stuff. It’s also a great place to find unique one-of-a-kind items like clothing and bags you can’t find anywhere else.

Cash and Treasures: The antique bottle dig

Cash and Treasures, as mentioned in a previous post, is a Travel Channel show that features kid friendly places. Host Kirsten Gum, an engaging sort, heads to where you can dig up treasure with or without kids.

Episode: Digging for antique bottles

What are they? Antique bottles. As in bottles. As in antiques. As in old.

Location: Gum headed to the Sacramento Valley in California, however, you can dig for antique bottles anywhere people lived years and years ago. You have to promise not to go all shovel happy, though. There are rules involved for where and how you go rooting around.

The Sacramento Valley offers promise for good digs because of the influx of people who settled here after gold was discovered in 1848. To find bottles, you have to find an outhouse. People used to throw out their trash down the holes. These days, the holes are often buried, and in this case, under a parking lot outside a store.

Gum asked the owner if she, along with Lou Lampert an antique bottle expert, could dig through the asphalt if they put it back the way they found it. This was more than a day process. By the time they were done, they were 12-feet down. The dig, hat involved specialized tools and a backhoe, was worth the trouble. The uncovered treasure included a still full champagne bottle, an embossed cobalt blue bottle (Gum’s favorite), an ale bottle, and a late Civil War era gin bottle–all dating between 1860 and 1880.

Antique bottle digging probably won’t make you a fortune, but it’s fascinating. As Lampert and Gum pointed out, you can learn a lot from people’s trash. For example, one bottle once contained Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for teething babies.

To find places to dig, look at old parcel maps that can be found at libraries, museums, historical societies and on-line. Once you locate a place to dig, make sure you ask for permission, and be careful. The full champagne bottle broke which Lampert said may have been caused by the change in air temperature when the bottle was brought from the hole to the surface.

For more tips on digging for bottles, check out Gum’s blog. The backhoe was to speed things up. You could do a dig without one, I think.


Middle East MapMaps are the sort of thing to get real geeked out about and that’s exactly what happened when I stumbled upon this Vintage Maps site. I pretty much flipped my wig. Reading maps is a skill I’d like to develop more and become a pro at doing, but until that time there’s nothing wrong with collecting a few here and there. Looking at vintage and antique maps and the way someone saw the world from who knows what view is something to marvel.

This antique map of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey in Asia looks very different to me, but it could just be the small photo size of the map. If you’ve got a favorite region of the world it might be worth getting one of these vintage pieces for your library in addition to the maps of the modern world. They’re a little pricey in comparison to the maps you would use on the road today, but I’m sure worth every penny.