Monday, June 30, 2014

Antiques Garage


On the last weekend of the Chelsea Antiques Garage, before its 1920s-era garage is demolished for a towering luxury hotel, the mood was resigned. This closure had been a long time coming.

Dealers sipped champagne for a farewell toast. Many talked of moving--there's some room at the outdoor flea in a parking lot on 25th, and at the Hell's Kitchen flea further uptown--but it's unclear exactly how so many vendors will fit. Space is limited and being outside is not ideal.

"Paper doesn't do well outdoors," said one vendor, a hawker of vintage nudie photos and other ephemera. "The moisture!"

Most dealers, when asked if they'll move to the other sites, said they'll probably take some time off, travel for the summer up and down the flea market circuit, until the kinks are worked out. Flea market people are gypsies at heart. Whether or not they return to the city is anybody's guess.

This group of flea markets got started in Chelsea in 1976. They were hugely popular with people across the city. Then, in 1995, the City Planning Commission re-zoned 6th Avenue from 24th to 31st Streets, changing it from a manufacturing district to residential and commercial. Immediately, reported the Times, plans were drawn up to put high-rise towers on the flea market sites.

Today, the once low-rise neighborhood has exploded with luxury towers, dull shafts that block the sun and add nothing to the neighborhood, but only take away. At the Garage, many people talked about real estate, the insane prices, and the awful feeling of being pushed to the margins--and then off a cliff. "Where can we go?"

Where can any of us go to get the feeling experienced here?

Drifting through the Garage, you are immersed in the stuff of memory as you shuffle through a bin of records, a box of buttons, a shelf of books. Walking from booth to booth, past glass candy dishes and salt and pepper shakers, everything conjures some association to the past.

You don't know which object will trigger which memory--the process happens so fast--but here come mornings at your grandmother's Florida house (a dish, a spoon), her hand sprinkling sugar onto a half of grapefruit just plucked from the tree.

Turn a corner and here's the album cover that brings back the music of first kisses. Then your big brother's Zippo lighter appears, battered from a tour of duty overseas, and you don't have to hold it to your nose to recall the tart scent of its metal. A cartoon jelly jar takes you back to Kool-Aid. A swizzle stick printed with the name of a long lost cocktail bar cries "Father," while a floral polyester dress brings back Mother, 1978, young and a little bit wild.

When we lose remnants of the past, we lose access to our own memories. Who are we without the antiques to remind us of details lost?

So much is lost.

With the towers have come a different class of people. Unique characters, once plentiful in the city, have diminished in number. For years, the Antiques Garage was their safe haven.

Like the Chicken Lady, a gray-haired woman who walks into the garage squawking like a chicken, loud enough for everyone to hear. People squawk back at her. She calls out, "I'm very sad! I'm very, very, very sad!" She's greeted with kisses and hugs. Asked why she's a chicken, she replies, "I'm the Chicken Lady. That's what they call me. I don't know, maybe it's because I go bawk, bawk, bawk!"

Larry Baumhor takes wonderful photos of the Garage people. There are jewelry designers in bowler hats and antlers, there are punks, fashion critics, and vintage-wear anachronisms.

There are the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, a pair of women who do their own thing--and do it wonderfully.

And there's the incredible "beyond gender" Zondra Foxx, who has explained, "Zondra was the woman I've always wanted with me. I could never find anyone as weird as I am. I found myself, and I'm the woman I've always wanted."

Said one woman to Larry, in a photo on his page, "They are destroying the individual, the non-conformist. The punk scene is gone. The city is being run by chain stores and is becoming like suburbia. If the Garage vanishes it will affect the non-conformists who are the meat and potatoes of the culture."

What we're left with, after so much has vanished, are objects all too new, meaningless in their freshness, unconnected to any past, containing nothing. We are systematically being erased. First they are taking our memories.

Antiques Garage, closing
Antiques Garage close call, 2007


Anonymous said...

Umm....try EBAY maybe?

Anonymous said...

I've been going to the Chelsea flea markets for at least 10 years. It really sucks that the garage is gone, in fact it sucks that at one time in a two or three block area there were five flea markets including the garage, now there is one left. I've come across some legendary finds at these places. This is what the reputation of this town is built on, not condos! I don't know what to say anymore except to ask the question, yet again: what the hell happened to New York City? Seriously, people want to come here now? For what, chain stores and artisanal food. Big fucking deal!

greg said...

@8:20: How could you read Jeremiah's beautiful post and come up with "try EBAY"?

Man, some people really just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

8:20am is clueless, don't even bother.

Yeah, "try Ebay" like several million other people. Idiot.


Ken Mac said...

"We are systematically being erased. First they are taking our memories."
Exactly. I was telling my girlfriend just last week, that the end game is to destroy history. When there is no history, no memories, nothing to cling to or fondly recall, then you can be bought and sold, and marketed to endlessly Then everything is "new" and the forces in power control the present and the future. They create a new present with every new marketing gimmick.

mary havern said...

Really sad to hear that the Garage has closed, on my trips to New York from Ireland i always looked forwards to my visit to the Garage, had some great finds and met some great dealers, New York finest flea market will be sadly missed mary h

Anonymous said...

"Umm....try EBAY maybe?"

Umm…how about I like to leave my house every once in a while and not wait for stuff in the mail that I have to go and pick up at the post office. If I have a choice between going to a flea market and rummaging through some cool old stuff that I can see first hand and buy on the spot, or waiting on line at the post office, which one do you think sounds more interesting?

If you chose 'picking stuff up at the post office', you've lost and there will be some lovely parting gifts for you on the way out. Enjoy your e-commerce!

Anonymous said...

This is a major loss for that area. Chelsea has been lost for many years now but this really is the nail in the coffin. There is literally nothing left that used to make Chelsea charming. Sad.

Anonymous said...

and to answer the question "What happened to New York City?" ... the most evil demon there is...GREED and having a billionaire in office for one term too much!

laura r. said...

thats a place i wouldnt have gone too. BUT those sky scaper buildings sure are ugly. as for ebay, hell....i like to see what im getting. what about taking a nice walk around town & having these interesting places to browse & relax? and the surprise of finding something you never thought would be there? the world is becoming this way, everywhere. its the attack on the indivual by big business. the corps want to dictate how we think how we dress how we live how we eat how we communicate how we survive. now we are all the same, w/some classist tweeking here & there. whats the alternative? for me its not ebay that for sure.

Danielle Bennignus said...

God, this one hurts. Some years ago, I bumped into a marvelous paper and historic photos dealer at the Garage - we became weekend associates, as he always had such beautiful wares. One week, he showed me an entire printed archive - photos, reviews, programs, documents, letters - of a local vaudevillian family. Knowing that I would never split it up, he gave me a very good price on it... and sure enough, I still have it to this day, safe and sound. With the Garage now a lost pleasure, the archive will take on yet another level of nostalgia. Such things hurt...

As for ebay? Sure - the sanitized, predictable, cookie-cutter version of antiquing... the joy of the hunt, and the surprise (such as the vaudeville archives), is entirely lost - but I suppose some are far more comfortable that way... sigh.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the observation "We are systematically being erased"....

Mayor Bloomberg's money and fear of his power resulted in little scrutiny of his administration. The results of his tenure - a real estate, land-use and demographic tsunami - are unbelievable and permanent. His intention was not just to enable banker and real estate forces; he also sought to transform NYC into a place for the affluent, consumeristic young - and to get rid of anything and anyone else.

laura r. said...

please stop using bloomburg as a fall guy. this a a global trend, the same developers are involved. off shore $ ect. bloomburg is just part of the food chain like obama is. lets see how much developement stops w/your friend di blasio. (??) comeon im waiting. NY is the new hong kong. welcome to oneworld. now everyone hold hands & sing.

Anonymous said...

Bloomberg is not being used as a fall guy. He made a statement shortly after leaving office that the rich are the ones paying the bills in NYC. He basically said he drove New York City not for the working class but for the rich. It shows everyday when you see less and less working class represented. Bloomberg was a moron who bought his way into power and is remembered as the idiot who tried to ban large sugary sodas. If you don't believe he was the force behind this then you need to go join the tea party my dear.