The Saga Begins
Very early on the morning of Saturday, August 8, 2009, a friend and I loaded his SUV with many boxes of my merchandise to be sold that day at Pennsy Flea Market. I didn’t have a van at the time so I “hired” my friend to transport me to and from the flea market. He would drop me off in the morning and pick me up at the end of the day. I would pay him thirty dollars for his services.
When Pennsy Flea Market first opened in May of 2009, Philadelphia’s airwaves were flooded with their advertisements. The campaign was impressive and it definitely caught the attention of flea marketers in Philadelphia—especially vendors. In addition, word also got out that Pennsy’s owners were from New York City.
What more could Big Apple-envious flea market enthusiasts ask for? An indoor market that would be open every weekend, all year round, and run by some New York City big shots. Surely these guys would show the City of BroLo how it’s done. To Philly flea market vendors, it seemed like categorical proof that, yes, there is a God and we are his new Chosen Ones. The paradise lost on Milton had apparently been found in Philadelphia.
Saga Continues . . .
By time the SUV was fully-loaded, it represented an hour-and-a-half’s worth of time and effort on both our parts. I carried the more than thirty-some-odd boxes and five tables up from my basement and we both loaded the vehicle upon my friend’s arrival.
As we pulled away to begin the short drive to the Pennsy Flea Market, my thoughts were only on how much merchandise I would get rid of and, subsequently, how much money I could make. I was not worried about the expenses: the thirty dollars to my friend plus $15.00 for the space. As an experienced vendor who had sold at Pennsy twice before, I was confident I could cover the $45.00 with my eyes closed. However, serious vendors don’t play for even, so I was concerned—as I am anytime I commit to selling anywhere—about earning enough profits to make all the time and effort worth my while. That was (should have been) my only challenge.
When Pennsy Flea Market first opened, space price was fairly high at $75.00 each. Many local vendors who fell for the hype paid with no qualms. But as with most things born out of hype, Pennsy fell short of expectations. Word traveled quickly that the majority of merchandise there was “new and cheap [as in low quality].” Also, the crowds were not big, nor well-heeled, enough.
As vendors and shoppers dropped like flies, Pennsy decided to enrich the flea market (in other words, make it more flea market-like) by attempting to attract more vendors selling used merchandise. In a back-to-basics move, they sent some people out to large flea markets in the area to distribute flyers announcing their new special. Vendors with used merchandise could rent a space for just $15.00. Not a bad idea. In fact, a very good one, at least, in theory. I was solicited in June of 2009 at a flea market in Society Hill and decided to give it a shot.
On July 11th I set up at Pennsy Flea Market for the first time and grossed $88.00. No good at all but my basic business philosophy is to try a new market no less than three times before giving up on it. The next Saturday (July 18th) I set up again and did much better. I grossed $204.00. Not great, but encouraging, and certainly something to build upon. Pennsy, for a brief moment in time, at least from where I was standing, was looking pretty good. August 8th, the fateful day that is the subject of this story, would have been my third time selling at Pennsy Flea Market. Would have been.
Saga, again . . .
We made the right-hand turn into the driveway and started the short drive to the booth that is the official entrance to the flea market’s parking lots. The booth is equipped with an electronic arm that forces you to stop and take notice that they were actually using the thing. At the time, it was manned and when you pulled up, the person inside would ask if you were a vendor or a shopper. He or she then directed you accordingly and lifted the arm.
On this day, however, life there was not so simple. After answering, Lady Booth threw me a curve when I had no reason to believe that anything but a routine fastball was on its way. In other words, she included another question that she had never asked before. She asked if I reserved and paid online.
Pennsy Flea Market had a website and on it was a page where you could see its layout and pick and pay for your space right there online. The problem is that it was glitch-y. I tried it once and it didn’t work. Another vendor I know also had a problem with it. Therefore, the two previous times I sold there, I just went into the office, paid, and they assigned me a space. In fact, I would venture to guess that, at the time, 95% of vendors were doing it this way.
Back to Saga
When I said no, I did not pay online, she said, “Then I cannot let you in.” As my jaw began to drop and my eyes widened, I was only able to mutter: “Excuse me?” She very nonchalantly reiterated that since I did not reserve and pay online, she could not let me into the flea market. I informed her that I had been there before and have never paid online. I told her that I simply go into the office upon arriving and they give me a space.
This is how that rest of the conversation went—sort of:
Her: “Well, no one is in the office.”
Me: “Why not?”
Her: “I don’t know. They called and told me not to let anyone in unless they pre-paid online.”
Me: “Well, I’ll just pay you.”
Her: “No, I can’t take any money.”
Me: “Okay, then I’ll just take the same space they give me all the time and pay when they come in.”
Her: “No, I cannot let you do that.”
Me (Trying not to yell): “Miss, I just spent two hours loading this truck, plus, I have to pay this gentleman for his services and you’re telling me you are really not going to let me in?”
Her (remaining indifferent): “Sorry, sir, but I cannot let you in unless you paid online.”
Me (extremely frustrated and now yelling): “I’ll call the cops and have you shut down!”
Her (even more indifferently): “Well, you can call the cops but they won’t be able to shut us down.”
Me: “Listen Lady, I didn’t want to have play this card but you give me no other choice. I’m part Sicilian and I’m sure you know what that means. I know a lot of people, the right people. So, if you don’t want to ‘go to the movies,’ you open this gate right now.”
Her: “Actually, I’d love to go to the movies but with the price of tickets nowadays, I don’t get to go very often. But if you’re sending me there, I assume you’re paying, so I’m inclined to accept your offer. But first let me check my Mafia to English dictionary to make sure we’re talking about the same thing. Hold on, under ‘Got to the movies’ it says ‘SEE Sleep with the fishes.’ I don’t even have to look that one up. I’ve seen The Godfather several times and I know what that means. No thanks. Go right on in, sir. My sincerest apologies.”
Actually, the last two lines are a joke. If I thought that acting like a gangster would have worked, I was so desperate, I might have given it a try. The bottom line is that she did not let us in and, after threatening to call the police, we none-too-happily, headed home.
To be continued . . .