Failed flea market gets central site, new name

Franklin Flea organizer Mark Vevle explores the space his operation will occupy in the former Strawbridge store at Eighth and Market Streets. The bazaar had not been successful in Northern Liberties.
Franklin Flea organizer Mark Vevle explores the space his operation will occupy in the former Strawbridge store at Eighth and Market Streets. The bazaar had not been successful in Northern Liberties. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 10, 2013

Philadelphians who sneered the Brooklyn Flea Market out of existence in Northern Liberties will soon get something that may be nearer to their hearts: a diplomatically redubbed Franklin Flea, inside a dormant portion of the former Strawbridge & Clothier store in Center City.

The bazaar of antiques vendors, vintage-clothing peddlers, jewelry merchants, and more is to debut on a onetime sales floor of Strawbridge at Eighth and Market Streets next Saturday and be open for six Saturdays and the Friday before Christmas.

Its pending arrival as a pop-up tenant inside a former anchor of the Gallery comes after the Oct. 27 demise of Brooklyn Flea Philly, an offshoot of the large New York event that failed to attract sufficient interest at the Piazza at Schmidts, partly because of its "foreign" name.

"The reception I've received from Philadelphia under the new name has been a lot warmer," Franklin Flea organizer Mark Vevle, a Philadelphia resident, said this week.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays from Nov. 16 through Dec. 21 and noon to 7 p.m. Dec. 20, dozens of vendors will occupy much of the 25,000-square-foot space that housed the cosmetics and jewelry department before the Strawbridge store, at that point a Macy's branch, closed in 2006.

Vevle is producing the new event through a company he created in recent months, chastened by lessons learned from the short-lived venture across town.

For one, Vevle said, he will never again underestimate the power of a name in a town like Philly.

Antipathy among locals toward patronizing a street fair branded with a Big Apple moniker helped drive Brooklyn Flea to its early grave, he said. Vendors heard repeated gripes about its out-of-town provenance, said Vevle, a Minnesota native who has lived here for three years now.

"The feedback they would get from some of their staunch, loyal people was, 'I won't set foot down there because it has Brooklyn in its name,' " he said. It mattered not that most of Brooklyn Flea's vendors were drawn from the Philadelphia region and were not carpetbaggers from the north.

Vevle hopes another boost will come from locating the market closer to densely populated downtown neighborhoods, in a shopping complex with links to SEPTA trains. Plus, it may better be able to capitalize on the annual surge of downtown holiday browsers.

"We do hope it is a destination experience," said Vevle, 37, an entrepreneur with a marketing and event-planning background. "Our bread and butter are going to be all the wonderful urbanites who are already here."

His ambitions took root three months ago, as he met with officials from the Center City District. The outlook for Brooklyn Flea was dimming, and Vevle was scouting for a shabby-chic locale with historic features to house an indoor version of the market.

The Strawbridge idea emerged at the end of his August meeting, popping out of the mouth of Michelle Shannon, Center City District's retail and marketing guru.

Shannon spent years as marketing director at the Gallery, and the darkened Strawbridge space with its untrammeled marble floors, plaster columns, and brass chandeliers is never far from her mind.

"It always makes me sad to see it shuttered," said Shannon, whose office is a few blocks away.

It seemed like a good fit for Vevle's funky experiment: "He wanted an interesting, possibly historic place that people would be excited to see," she said.

The Gallery is one of the more challenged assets in the portfolio of Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, which owns mostly mid-Atlantic malls and shopping centers.

Ever-evolving reinvention plans remain under wraps for the mall, where vacancies and discount retail have remained the major story line as the rest of Center City has experienced a resurgence.

Franklin Flea, though not a long-term component of the company's plans, is an interesting and innovative use that PREIT thought was worth a low-cost lease.

"We recognized that this concept was very creative," said Maureen Weir, the Gallery senior marketing director who worked on the temporary lease, which will extend through late December.

Franklin Flea's vendors hawk products priced from $3 to $300 and higher, meaning they will likely draw a broad customer base not typically found at the Gallery, whose tenants include Kmart and Burlington Coat Factory.

In that sense, it could help PREIT better gauge the market potential in 2013 as it strives to reimagine the Gallery.

"Of the many people I talked to, PREIT got it," Vevle said. "This is a rock-star team that wants to do cool stuff with that area."


mpanaritis@phillynews.com

215-854-2431 @Panaritism

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