Q&A: Franklin Flea Founder Mark Vevle

What to expect in the old Strawbridge's space.

The same day that we learned that the Brooklyn Flea brand failed here in Philadelphia, we also learned that its locally based manager, Mark Vevle, was set to launch a new market in Philadelphia with a much more Philly-appropriate name, The Franklin Flea. Here, Vevle tells me what what wrong with the Brooklyn Flea and what to expect from the Franklin Flea, which opens November 16th in the Strawbridge’s building at 8th and Market streets.

I have to ask you first, what went wrong with Brooklyn Flea Philly?
Of course you do. Listen, it was an experiment. They were proud of the following that we did have and of the vendors that were there. But their vision for what they wanted the market to be and how big they wanted it to be, it didn’t get there by the end of the season. So they pulled the plug. There were opportunities for me to go elsewhere with them, but I decided that I love Philly, and I see a lot of potential in what we built here, so I’m going to pick up the torch from where they left off.

What can the city expect from your Franklin Flea concept?
In some ways, there will be things that are similar to the Brooklyn Flea. I worked on vendor selection for that, and so I’m reaching out to all the approved vendors to see if they’d like to come along, and most of our regulars are saying yes. These are all local Philadelphia vendors.

Are you a native Philadelphian?
I am not. I grew up in Minneapolis, spent time in Los Angeles, New York, Chapel Hill. And I’ve been here for three years. I’ve decided I’m an East Coast, urban person. I do like New York, but Philadelphia is more affordable and a more manageable size.

When I think of a “flea market,” I think of the Berlin Mart or Q-Mart, but that’s not what we’re talking about here, right?
The market will be antique- and vintage- and collectibles-focused but, really, high-quality, top-of-the-class kind of vendors. This isn’t a garage sale. These are people who are professionals. They do hunting throughout the week.


How did you wind up in the old Strawbridge’s space?
That was just a really fortunate thing that came about really quickly. PREIT owns that building, they own all of the Gallery. When I got in touch with them about the space, I was really looking for something downtown with a big floor plate, that’s historic, and that people haven’t been in for a while. Boy, did that fit the bill. They were immediately receptive and have been incredible partners.

Is this a pop-up, or will the Franklin Flea be inside of Strawbridge’s permanently?
We’ll do a six-week run leading up to Christmas, and then I will focus on bringing the Franklin Flea back outdoors in April. Location to be determined. I’m interested in this idea that Philadelphia is ultimately pretty neighborhoody. People are proud of their neighborhoods and they hunker down where they live, especially on weekends. So I am thinking, what if I locate it in a different place every two months? That involves some site selection and working out multiple leases. The other idea, if the downtown location at Strawbridge’s works out, there are a few outdoor places near the store, and PREIT has already been suggesting that they could help facilitate that.

Why aren’t you doing a Sunday market, like the Brooklyn Flea?
Sundays were an interesting thing to try. We knew that there were already a lot of markets on Saturdays, and then 104.5 concerts were already booked at the Piazza on Saturdays, so Sundays seemed to make sense. But the football Sundays really killed us once fall came around.

When you first walked into the Strawbridge’s space, what did you see? I imagine it to be dusty, musty and old.
No, it was pretty raw. They’ve taken out all of the fixtures and furnishings. But there are beautiful marble floors and big brass chandeliers and columns. PREIT has slowly been assembling properties along that whole corridor and is working on what sounds like the transformation of that area. so they’ve been keeping Strawbridge’s in tip top shape to show prospective tenants. When we do a market like this, it activates the space so that the public can imagine what it can be again.

You mentioned the Gallery before. It has a pretty negative reputation in the city. Do you worry about setting up your market near it?
Not at all. There will be prices for everybody at the Franklin Flea. This past summer, we had a really wide range of buyers. It will continue to do so. I suppose that East Market isn’t the most glamorous part of town, but it certainly has a high volume of people coming in on commuter rail lines from the suburbs for work, and you have an incredibly loyal and well-educated group of people living in Washington Square West that are in walking distance. It will be a really interesting mix.

Will there be food, like at the Brooklyn Flea?
Yes. Luke’s Lobster, La Porchetta, and Hot Diggity Hot Dogs will all be there. We have some new entries that I can’t talk about yet.

I heard a lot of grumbling about the price you charged vendors to set up tables at the Brooklyn Flea. Will the prices be the same at Franklin Flea?
The rates are very similar. They’re really not much more than what other markets charge. There are a lot of craft markets in Philadelphia, and that’s great. It speaks to the DIY nature, the handmade nature of our city, which is really cool. But the Franklin Flea is not a craft market. And the economics of a craft market are just different.

What’s the key to your success at this location?
A market like this, ultimately, is going to work if we can draw and attract shoppers not just from within walking distance. There has to be a draw from tourists, a draw from students, a draw from homeowners in the area, a draw from weekend trippers from the surrounding suburbs, New Jersey people coming in for the weekend for an urban experience, Delco. We need a full draw for a market like this to be viable.

[Photo of Mark Vevle: Proxy By Design; Strawbridge’s photos courtesy Mark Vevle]