The Berkeley Flea Market is set to reopen this month, earlier than expected, after it was planned to shut down in February and March because of financial difficulties.
The flea market struggled financially after smoke from the Camp Fire and a series of rainy weekends forced vendors to stay home. According to Andrea Prichett — a board member of Community Services United, or CSU, the nonprofit organization that runs the market — rainy days cause the market to lose money, and choosing two of the traditionally rainiest months to shut down was a strategy to save money to make April’s rent.
The flea market was able to open with support from vendors and the CSU staff members who are currently working as volunteers as well as a GoFundMe campaign launched last December that has collected $2,769 as of press time — enough to cover the CSU board’s expenses for a month.
The flea market was closed Saturday because of the weather but plans to be open March 16.
“The history (of the market) is profound, especially the history of the African American community in South Berkeley that is represented in the flea market,” Prichett said. “It offers opportunities for self-reliance and economic independence for people who want to be their own boss and continue to incubate entrepreneurial projects.”
Though not yet on “solid ground,” the CSU is undergoing reorganization, according to Prichett. The organization intends to create a plan to reinvigorate the market. The CSU is considering taking out a loan or grants from the city of Berkeley.
According to a letter from Councilmembers Ben Bartlett, Sophie Hahn and Cheryl Davila to Mayor Jesse Arreguín and members of the City Council on Feb. 26, the nearly 50-year-old market faces the risk of being shut down permanently unless a “sustainable path to solvency is discovered and enacted.” The letter recommends that the city manager provide “material and strategic” assistance to the flea market.
“There’s a core group of people that are just not going to go away,” said flea market vendor and homeless advocate Guy “Mike” Lee. “This is their livelihood, this is what they’ve been doing for 25, 30 years, this is how they put food on the table.”
According to Lee, Bartlett has been putting together a task force to tackle the issue. The task force is meeting next week to formulate a plan to submit to BART, whose parking lot hosts the market, regarding how the market plans to move forward. Lee, other vendors and city representatives are involved in these discussions as well.
One possible proposal the task force has been exploring is to move the flea market to a cheaper location. Lee, however, expressed that many vendors do not support this idea and proposed focusing on issues with CSU’s management instead.
According to Prichett, CSU is attempting to introduce a combined flea and farmers market to involve more members of the community. In addition, CSU is looking into increasing the participation of youth and arts organizations in the market.
“We feel that we do have the support of the city. … We have the support of the community for sure,” Lee said.