Davis Flea Market celebrates one-year anniversary

You might not think the marriage of the subprime mortgage crisis in Ireland and the mass exodus of writers and artists from Davis to humanities-friendly locations could have a brain-child, but it has, and she is celebrating her first birthday.

This Sunday, the Davis Flea Market will celebrate its one-year anniversary. It was inspired by the bloom of DIY culture in Ireland after the subprime mortgage crisis, and encouraged by the determination to entice UC Davis students to start businesses and stay in town after graduation. The Davis Flea Market is a self-sustaining pop-up market of local art, performance and vintage gear. In its year of existence, it has faced many challenges in finding a place for itself within Downtown Davis’ community.

But Lauren Norton, director of the Davis Flea Market, is hopeful for its future expansion.

“We dream of having a brick-and-mortar building where we can have a cooperative retail space, a café and a performance venue,” Norton wrote in an email interview. “Considering the level of enthusiasm for the Flea right now, this could be a reality sooner than I ever anticipated.”

Searching for a place has been a theme in the founding and trials of the Flea Market. In 2011, when Norton finished up her Master’s degree in creative writing, she watched as her community of fellow artists and writers dispersed for different and more promising cities.

“Everyone seemed to be moving to the Bay Area or Portland — cities with more opportunities and also lower rents than Davis,” Norton said. “I thought an accessible and experimental market venue would be a good way to entice a new generation of UC Davis students downtown where they could think about the possibility of laying down roots.”

Even if enticed, however, Norton said it hasn’t been so easy to lay those roots down.

“The biggest challenge was finding a location, and then securing the necessary permission to use [it]. The E Street Plaza seemed like a terrific spot — it’s in the heart of downtown and it has a covered stage for our bands,” Norton said. “[But] the local business association (Davis Downtown Business Association) initially blocked us from putting on the Flea market because they were concerned about our vendors and customers taking up too many parking spaces and also competing with their stores.”

Norton personally met with many of the local business owners and spoke to them about the flea market’s goals to make downtown a more vibrant place to shop, and create a mutually beneficial relationship between Davis Flea and downtown Davis.

Eventually, enough business owners signed her petition, and in January of last year, the flea market got the green light.

Since then, the Davis Flea has used the marketplace to serve many causes. It recycles material goods by practicing sustainable commerce, and fosters entrepreneurship in students and community members alongside well-versed business owners.

Julie Cross of the Davis Food Co-op, who has participated in the Flea Market as a vendor and promotional partner, became aware of the Flea at its very first event. She then reached out to it for several reasons.

“They certainly support our belief in wise use and reuse of resources, and help to keep shopping dollars local. We think that having events like this one in our downtown helps keep things lively and attract business,” Cross said in an email interview.

As a vendor, she described the market as a chance to get some things out of the house.

“I spent a month going through my kitchen and clearing out things that [weren’t] getting much use. I spiffed everything up — ‘used’ doesn’t mean ‘trashy,’ and the Flea really attracts shoppers who are looking for quality merchandise,” Cross said.

The morning of the market, after drinking her coffee, praying for sun and driving her stuff to the E Street Plaza, Cross said it was nothing but four hours of dancing to good music and talking to nice people while she sold a great pile of stuff.

The Flea Market also pays musicians to play, and according to Norton, it can be hard to find a gig in Davis, especially when Sophia’s Thai Canteen closes its balcony in the winter months.

“I heard about the Flea from Facebook and the fliers around town,” wrote Alex Roth, the Pepper Peddler who has been involved with the Flea Market as a vendor, sponsor and performer, in an email interview. “We’ve played twice now and [it] has always been a blast — very laid back. Some people and kids dancing around, other people just sitting back and listening. And since Lauren is a musician herself, she actually pays the bands a decent wage.”

The Davis Flea always welcomes applications from new vendors. Currently, it’s $25 for students to set up a booth, and $40 for professionals, though both are encouraged to team up and split the fee. According to Norton, the Flea Market is also always offering internships.

“We cover everything from marketing, event management, talent scouting, [to] outreach and documentary making (Flea HD),” Norton said. “I also love hearing people’s ideas for the market, we are a very receptive community and we enjoy working with other organizations to create more unified, vibrant, and productive spaces to live and work in.”

Unfortunately, despite the apparent success and popularity of the Flea Market, the problem of space has arisen again.

“The DDBA sent me a letter on Jan. 14 stating that we could no longer use the E Street Plaza at the times we have been putting on the market,” Norton said. “Thankfully, the city has offered us the use of Central Park for our birthday celebration at no extra charge.”

Norton wrote that she’s nervous about redesigning the entire market on such short notice, but that she’s determined not to let this setback impede the success of the event.

This change of location could be a problem in the future, however, as Norton said that many of the vendors who apply to come back every month use their profits to help pay their rent and buy textbooks for classes.

“Next month we will have to pay a much larger fee to use Central Park, and the challenge will be finding sponsors to offset this cost,” she said.

If enough sponsors can be found, the Davis Flea will remain an accessible venture for students and young entrepreneurs. As Norton’s original goals were to create a community for the graduating artists, she hopes to register as a charity and apply for grants.

In the meantime, however, the one-year anniversary celebration will continue, and this Sunday at Central Park the Davis Flea has booked more performers than ever before.

“Big Tree are coming out from Berkeley, Tha Dirt Feelin are local favorites, and we have a bunch of performers from UC Davis, including The Spokes, Agape, and UCD Popping Club,” Norton said.

There will also be a new Davis Flea tote bag for sale to help the Flea Market’s fundraising efforts.

“It [will be] an amazing place for a bargain,” Cross said. “There are some super-fashionable clothes, cheap cool house ware, and good music—really everything you could want in a shopping trip!”

If you are interested in becoming a vendor, look up the Davis Flea Market on Facebook for further information.

NAOMI NISHIHARA can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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