Eric Demby is the co-founder of the Brooklyn Flea, a relatively new (and welcome) addition to Brooklyn’s hang-out spots, which Good Magazine called “New York’s best outdoor emporium of antique saucepans, bicycle paintings, handmade jewelry, and food-truck food.” After other city flea markets closed due to encroaching real-estate ventures, the Brooklyn Flea saw over 20,000 visitors at their opening in April, 2008.
As for Demby, he and his co-founder, Jonathan Butler, hadn’t really intended on this becoming their livelihood. Originally a PR guy for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Demby has since devoted himself full-time to the Flea, prompting Good Mag to include him in their list of “Eight Successful People Doing Exactly What They Want.”
The Brooklyn Flea has received accolades of its own. It has been featured in The New York Times, Country Living, and Budget Travel, among others. He now lives with his wife and new daughter, Loe. We caught up with him:
What is your main goal with this project? What’s the best outcome you can think of for it?
I could answer this in a couple ways. We started this as a business. We wanted a decent profit margin that would allow us to grow. I have a baby girl and Jonathan has two kids in elementary school, so we needed to meet our basic needs—so that was one goal.
But one of the big goals was to promote Brooklyn as a tourist attraction. This was something I learned working in public relations, there’s no obvious destination for young travelers to visit in Brooklyn. I mean, there are a some nice neighborhoods, or Coney Island, but we wanted to create a place that embodied the experience of what you’d heard about Brooklyn. That culture or sub-culture, with the salvaged, distressed décor and buildings, and repurposed furniture—sort of a cross section of the Brooklyn Renaissance that’s emerged as part of the experience of living here.
We weren’t really conscious of this goal in the beginning but that’s really become our goal, in order to keep this going and to get people coming from all over.
What’s your favorite part of your work?
The attitude of cooperation and collaboration, rather than competition between vendors. They all work together and it’s created sort of an entrepreneur incubator. People with a hobby or a passion can now turn it into a business. Really seeing dreams turn into professions over two or three years has been incredibly satisfying. Not that we’re taking direct credit but I think we’re all collectively proud of that.
We’ve built a business with different attitude than most New York City businesses have, or seem to have. We’ve created a place with low prices, it’s free to get in and people are welcome to just hang out, enjoy themselves, and soak in that special feeling of being inside the flea.
Do you consider yourself a good man? Why or why not?
Yeah, definitely. I was born and raised on a kind of farm in central Maine. I have a built-in way of doing business that’s hardwired. It works in a conventional way, but still gives back to the community. The flea supports anyone who wants to raise awareness about what they’re doing—sort of like an old fashioned town square.
Part of our mission was to create a gathering place for a healthy exchange of ideas and most importantly allow humans to interacting with other human beings. I think we’re doing good and making people happier.
What makes a good man in your eyes?
I would say it’s very important to share success, have some sort of ripple effect. People are connected locally and globally and [a good man] considers the immediate impact and the lasting impact of what he’s doing.
Who has been the ultimate good man in your life?
Honestly, in light of recent events, the President of the United States. He’s a pretty cool guy.