Lifestyle

How Parkmart Became NYC’s Coolest Flea Market

Parkmart isn’t your run-of-the-mill flea market. Housed in a rotating roster of locations — but as of late, a warehouse in Bushwick — the art and design-focused maker’s mart has carved out its own corner in Brooklyn’s DIY scene. Amid the unremitting struggle for community-focused venues to keep their doors open, Parkmart’s objective is to offer a temporary home to creative outsiders. Once a month, it takes over the lofty space, often assembling upwards of sixty vendors showcasing their unconventional wares.

At 1 p.m. on a Saturday, just an hour since Parkmart has opened, the warehouse is already brimming with people, ushered into the industrial space with a banner featuring a Parkmart-branded spoof of the Walmart logo. Tables and clothing racks line the walls and form a line dividing the middle of the warehouse, forming makeshift aisles. One vendor selling pants emblazoned with tiger graphics is backdropped by a bar seemingly abandoned years ago. A chain link fence serves as a makeshift rack for her to hang up more jackets. In a back corner, the opening DJ of the day is wrapping up his set, the first act of the day amongst five hours of nonstop techno. A few onlookers have cracked beers.

Parkmart is the brainchild of friends Nico, Seth, Brooks and Nurse. After being introduced to one another by mutuals in the skating scene around 2018, the four bonded over a shared appreciation for clothes, music and creative DIY projects.

In June 2021, Nurse and Brooks – who both run their own brands, Holy Thy Name for Nurse and Cave City for Brooks – began ideating how to create an IRL experience to support independent brands and designers post-pandemic. Following an initial wave of people picking up new hobbies and teaching themselves skills like sewing and graphic design in quarantine, many creatives filled the void of in-person events by launching online websites and magazines while others turned to social media to promote their work. Though these digital domains certainly provided a collaborative outlet, Nurse and Brooks wanted to facilitate IRL connections between independent brands and potential customers and between the designers.

Around the same time, Nico, who works as a graphic designer for a record label, had hit up Brooks to organize a clothing pop-up between Cave City and his own clothing label, Organized Sports. Nurse, Brooks and Nico met up on the stoop of the East Village’s Punjabi Deli, where they fleshed out the entire concept of Parkmart in four hours. Seth, a DJ himself, jumped on board shortly after. Having all grown up near a local DIY scene, the four were also nostalgic for the hardcore aesthetic resonant with the shows they attended growing up.

“Everyone had these online outlets and new projects they were working on over the pandemic,” Brooks says. “As things were starting to open up, we thought it was the perfect time to release different things in person again but there was really no platform to do it.”

Everything goes at Parkmart – as long as you make it yourself – from jackets and denim to hand-cast jewelry. Underlining the market’s ethos is a hard rule: no vintage, unless it’s been customized. “If you’re not imparting any of your own creative mind onto what you’re selling, it’s not for us,” Nurse says.

“We made a conscious decision that only carrying original stuff would set Parkmart aside from any other flea market in the city,” Brooks adds.

The inaugural market went down right on the blacktop of Maria Hernandez Park. The boys brought fold-up tables and borrowed a generator from a friend. After posting about the market online, they curated an assemblage of designers and artists. They didn’t have permits to actually have an event in the park, so the mindset was to “show up and hope for the best,” Seth says. After a successful first few Parkmarts, they scoped Cooper Park in East Williamsburg for the next installment, returning to the site for four or five months. During the winter months, they held one iteration in a storefront in the Lower East Side and another at the now-closed Bushwick bar Rise Radio. For a recent special-edition Parkmart art show, the organizers headed to downtown Brooklyn’s Guilty By Association for an exhibition consisting entirely of one-of-one T-shirts fastened to the gallery’s walls.

During the final Parkmart that was actually held in a park, the vendors were packing up when a State Park Police officer rolled up to the site and asked if they had a permit. Seth recalls telling him that they had one but it had ended just an hour before so they were packing up for the day. The lie got them out of being ticketed but also served as a sign it had come time to take things indoors after two years of operations.

“Curating it in the beginning was a big part of bringing people out,” Nico says. “We had some good vendors quite early on and that created not necessarily an aesthetic but a sort of standard for who’s selling.”

In the time since Parkmart moved into its semi-permanent location on Melrose Street, the market has amassed a full lineup of around 70 vendors each month, about 50% of whom are recurring names on the Parkmart rota. After they moved inside, the founders began charging vendors an application fee to cover the cost of the space but aside from the “no vintage” clause, every designer that submits an application gets a table on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Even with a more hands-off approach to curating, the Parkmart assemblage intuitively caters to the style of the DIY scene. One designer named Nolan Mottle hand-paints and bleaches puffers, work jackets and denim. A standout creation is a Carhartt jacket with an extremely detailed airbrushed graphic of a man aiming his rifle.

Drew, the mastermind behind Dembs, makes gorpcore-leaning cargo pants, anorak-style bags and maglock belts, while the brand Pepela prints glitzy, Y2K-inspired graphics onto traditional sportswear hoodies. Fine Ass Fronts, meanwhile, will make buyers a custom-fitted tooth cap, fang or a grill spelling out their name.

For Nico, Brooks, Seth and Nurse, the community aspect is what has propelled them to keep Parkmart going – they don’t take a cut of vendors’ sales – and it’s also what brings those passionate about supporting independent designers to the warehouse on a Saturday afternoon. Seth recalls two women who drove from Chicago simply to sell at Parkmart one weekend. Another friend had been struggling to make rent but found his fortune changed after he sold a stenciled mirror to a woman who had just moved into one of the apartments located above Parkmart. Many visitors linger on the sidewalk chatting after making the rounds. Others hang out in the back, listening to the DJ of the hour.

Going on three years, Parkmart has spawned a cult following of people who return month after month. It also has an after-party dubbed Darkmart, a natural expansion of the brand given the organizers’ roots in the music industry and Nurse’s background as the founder of the rave collective Body Bag.

DIY culture and the manpower behind it is acclimated to operating on the fringes – pulling off events on shoestring budgets, oftentimes in venues loaned to them by friends or in the free terrain of public parks. For Parkmart and other independent projects, existing on the margins isn’t to their detriment but rather a means to eschew the barriers of traditional art and fashion institutions while offering an alternative infrastructure that puts accessibility and creativity at the forefront.

This year, the friends are forecasting the best year for Parkmart yet, a pretty safe assumption given it’s been growing exponentially and already has a loyal community backing it. “It feels like in 2023, we expanded our audience way beyond what it’s been for the past few years,” Nico says. “We’re able to cross-pollinate so many different people and groups and it’s really rewarding.”



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