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Brooklyn Flea expands to D.C. this fall

Wednesday - 7/31/2013, 9:09am  ET

District Flea is coming to a space at 945 Florida Ave., N.W. The lot belongs to Bethesda-based real estate developer, JBG, and is one of the planned parcels for the Atlantic Plumbing project. (Courtesy The JBG Companies)

WASHINGTON - Maybe it's the excess of warehouses and soon-to-be-construction sites, the buzzing art and music scene or the remnants of bygone punk days.

Whatever the case may be, the U Street/Shaw neighborhood in Northwest D.C. shares a similar like-mindedness with Brooklyn -- that's according to one of the borough's most influential entrepreneurs.

Eric Demby, co-founder of Brooklyn Flea, recently took a trip to D.C. with his partner, Jonathan Butler. After the trip, his "decade-old" perspective of the city was completely changed.

"When we went down there, we were just really excited by how cosmopolitan the city is the vitality on the streets and the kinds of food and stores that we saw there's just kind of something in the air," Demby says.

And that new perspective is prompting Demby and Butler to expand their New York-based empire to Washington.

What started as a basic flea market in 2008 has since expanded to four markets, including two spin-off food markets called Smorgasburg. Brooklyn Flea also operates concessions at the Central Park SummerStage and has a pop-up market at South Street Seaport.

This past June, Demby and Butler brought their branded market to Philadelphia. And come Sept. 14, the duo will launch the D.C. version, District Flea, for six Saturdays at a lot on Florida Avenue.

"We're basically testing out expanding the flea to other cities. Everyone keeps telling us to do it. That doesn't mean it's necessarily the right thing for us to do as a business, so we're sort of dipping our toes in the water with Philadelphia and D.C.," Demby says.

Even though the plans have been in place for a relatively short amount to time, Demby says local D.C. vendors are showing a lot of interest in the market.

Hugh McIntosh, 35, is District Flea's market manager. According to McIntosh, close to 100 vendors have already applied for the market and about 40-45 vendors have been accepted, thus far. McIntosh says he's looking to kick-off the market with about 150 vendors, ranging from furniture, to food and home goods.

McIntosh, who also works as a part-time teacher and a musician, grew up in D.C. and moved back to the city about two years ago.

"I just felt D.C. really needed something like this," he says. "I've always been a flea market person."

The space at 945 Florida Ave., N.W. belongs to Bethesda-based real estate developer The JBG Companies and is one of the planned parcels for the Atlantic Plumbing project.

The market's fall dates are limited to six Saturdays, but Demby is not quick to call District Flea temporary.

"I guess it's more accurate to call it a trial. Basically we want to see how it goes, and the developer is fine with that, too," Demby says. "We're going to do it for six Saturdays and we'll know whether it's a hit or not. But we have every intention of coming back beginning in the spring. We want to verify our gut instinct."

While two of the three parcels for Atlantic Plumbing are already under construction, JBG has no plans for immediate construction on the third parcel. A JBG spokesperson says the company sees the flea market as a permanent part of the Atlantic Plumbing development.

McIntosh says the land, located behind the 9:30 Club, is a perfect location, based on the dense residential population and the area's young demographic.

"That neighborhood is sort of revitalizing and changing in ways that look a lot like what happened in Brooklyn five or eight years ago," McIntosh says. "It's a combination of having some available space where we can operate, but being so close to a dense residential population and a lot of young people -- I think it's going to be a great space."

McIntosh says he also sees the potential for expanding District Flea to other locations throughout the city.

"The cool thing about it is the format can change and mutate in really interesting ways. I'd love to be in two locations, like they do in Brooklyn. I think there are a lot of areas in D.C. that would respond to a flea."

Demby, whose brand is known up-and-down the East Coast, credits the flea's success to its sense of community and ability to transcend age and culture.

"There's a familiarity with the flea market that everybody all over the world has It's a really easy day out for someone who is 19 or 25. It's an easy day for someone like me who is 40 with two young kids. It's an easy day for a tourist who's coming from really anywhere in the world, young, middle aged or older," Demby says. "You can eat or shop, get a little bit of local flavor, sort of a cross-section of a city. I think those are the things that people are attracted to and return to it."

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