A Tale of Two Fleas

Flea markets are making a comeback, as evidenced by the success of The Davis Flea and The Providence Flea, both of which are hipper versions of your mother's flea, featuring vintage finds and eco-chic upcycled goods.

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Shoes get a second life at The Davis Flea in Somerville.

Text and photos by JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff

There’s something about a flea market that flies defiantly in the face of modern life, which has been made banal and predictable by smart phones, chain stores and GPS. Happenstance rarely happens anymore.

A flea market exists as a place outside of commercialized modes of commerce, in a delightful space where kismet meets castoffs. Relics of past lives are jumbled together and presented anew to shoppers who find things they never knew existed. In recent years, flea markets have become almost trendy — catering to moms, hipsters and young urbanites looking to score vintage treasure such as an old neon bar sign, bottle-cap earrings or a mid-century modern end table.

What follows is a tale of two fleas separated by 60 miles but linked in their goal to create an accessible pop-up retail space for small businesses, crafters, hobbyists and entrepreneurs who sell reused stuff.

Carolina Portillo sells colorful glass jewelry that she makes from recycled picture frames and windows.

Carolina Portillo sells colorful glass jewelry that she makes from recycled picture frames and windows.

 

The Davis Flea in Davis Square is Anything but Square

Davis Flea managers, from left, Greg Ghazil, Jason Metz and Maureen Nuccitelli.

Davis Flea managers, from left, Greg Ghazil, Jason Metz and Maureen Nuccitelli.

 

On a steamy Sunday in mid-July, The Davis Flea in Somerville is rocking — literally. Onstage, Suitcase Junket, a slide-guitar-playing one-man band, grooves as shoppers browse old-timey games, cowboy boots, baubles and curiosities.

The crowd is steady in spite of the oppressive heat, and business is brisk for Real Pops’ owner Dewey Cyr, who is peddling the coolest stuff at the market — artisan ice pops in flavors like strawberry lemonade and strawberry balsamic and apricot-chamomile.

Cyr, who sells her icy treats from a bike cart, has not-so-scientifically calculated the popsicle “bliss point” at 85 degrees. “Anything too cool and people won’t buy pops,” she said. Too hot, and people will stay indoors. It’s 84 degrees, and a line is forming in front of her cart.

This marks Carla and James Gilbert’s second season at the Davis Flea. The husband-and-wife owners of i want a pony! have a two-tent booth jam packed with merchandise that is artfully arranged on top of shabby-chic dressers and distressed chairs. The Gilberts have a store in Barrington, R.I., but Carla, a New Bedford native who now lives in Providence, said they do great business at the Davis Flea.

Customers stop to peruse pretty things at i want a pony!

Customers stop to peruse pretty things at i want a pony!

Rarely, she said, do customers quibble over prices. Typically, they pay the price on the tag, though she does admit to giving “cute kid” discounts sometimes.

On the other side of the market, Carolina Portillo sells colorful glass jewelry that she makes from recycled picture frames and windows. She enjoys creating something new, meaningful and artistic out of materials that might otherwise go unused.

The managers of the Davis Flea like to say that, rather than focusing on selling new products and crafts, their flea focuses on the concept of “reclaiming and repurposing that of which we already have.”

The Davis Flea began its second season June 2 and features vintage finds, upcycled goods, a farm stand, snacks from local food artisans and live music. Things are going well this year, said Maureen Nuccitelli, a manager of the flea. This despite the fact that last season ended on an ominous note, with the final market coinciding with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy.

Nuccitelli manages this flea with Greg Ghazil and Jason Metz. All three have longstanding ties to Davis Square. Nuccitelli, a Watertown resident who works as a professional organizer, used to work as a bartender at Gargoyles on the Square. Ghazil tends bar at Toad in Porter Square.

“The Davis Flea is capitalizing on the green movement,” Nuccitelli said. There are strict guidelines for vendors who wish to sell at the flea. She explained that The Davis Flea is juried and the focus is on vendors that sell recovered items and antiques or artisans who use recycled materials.

Shoppers at The Providence Flea enjoy views of the city while perusing vintage wares.

Shoppers at The Providence Flea enjoy views of the city while perusing vintage wares.

 

A Flea Landed on a Helipad 

The Providence Flea crew, from left, Laura Pisaturo, Maria Tocco and Sandra Pisaturo Toth.

The Providence Flea crew, from left, Laura Pisaturo, Maria Tocco and Sandra Pisaturo Toth.

The Providence Flea is probably the only flea market anywhere that boasts a helipad — incidentally, the helipad predates the flea. Located on Providence’s Greenway with a view of the city skyline, the Providence Flea is enjoying a successful first season. 

Like The Davis Flea, The Providence Flea features vintage finds and upcycled goods. And, like the Davis Flea, The Providence Flea also has a bike pop gal. Val Khislavsky owner of PVD Pops, a self-described sassy import from the Eastern Bloc, makes her pudding pops with Rhody Fresh Milk. And, this past Sunday, PVD Pops was drawing a crowd of customers seeking relief from the heat.

Behind Khislavsky's cart, a line of food trucks putters curbside, serving up snacks to hungry patrons.

The Providence Flea is the brainchild of Maria Tocco, who, after a visit to The Brooklyn Flea, was inspired to bring that experience home to Providence. Together with her partner, Laura Pisaturo, she made The Providence Flea a reality.

Steve Duque makes coasters and pens from broken skateboards.

Steve Duque makes coasters and pens from broken skateboards.

This past Sunday, the market was enjoying its ninth straight week without rain, and the Greenway was crowded with nearly 50 vendors, including Steve Duque who was selling coasters, pens and key fobs made from upcycled skateboards that he personally has used. Duque has a corporate job with Citizens Bank, but skateboarding, which he has done for more than half his life, is his passion. For years he said he kept his old broken boards and then one day, he turned a broken board into a pen and hasn’t stopped. 

“I love to think that I landed such a great trick on this board and now I’m giving it a second life," he said.

Today is Tricia DeCristofaro’s third time at the market. Her business Petals and Pots by Patricia features an eclectic mix of antiques and jewelry made from salvaged buttons.

“The flea is a lot of fun and you meet some great people; it’s a good way to get your name out there,” DeCristofaro said.

Back at the welcome table, Tocco stands back and surveys the market she has created. 

“We ramped up more quickly than expected," she said. "That tells me there’s a market for this market. Vendors appreciate having a venue like this to sell their stuff which doesn’t always fit into a traditional artist market.”