On a breezy day in June, Amy Abrams and Ronen Glimer—married co-founders of the thirteen-year-old market Artists & Fleas—walked me through their Crown Heights home. Upstairs, Abrams showed us the master bedroom—tidy and punctuated with eclectic objects and pictures—and then walked us past an office, whose handsome sliding door was purchased in Jodhpur, India, and finally to the bedrooms of their daughters, Ruby and Noa.
A garland of multicolored pom-poms hung above one of their beds. I asked Abrams if she had made them. But she laughed, “We’re not makers, we’re shoppers.” Ruby and Noa were on their way to sleep-away camp. “We’re excited to walk through the neighborhoods that we haven’t walked through in a while because it’s dinner- or bedtime,” Abrams tells me, seated at their kitchen island; Glimer stands behind it, “at his station,” he jokes.
“I used to ride my bike everywhere, it’s a great way to explore the city,” Glimer continued. “Now I long for that way of losing myself—it stimulates a lot of thinking around the market, and how we do what we do.”
Today, Artists & Fleas is a household name for a large community of makers. This spring, its second Los Angeles location opened in Venice (the first was in downtown LA), which means that Abrams and Glimer now provide nearly 300 vendors with a homebase for selling highly curated collections of clothing, art, housewares, and more, all either vintage or handmade. And beyond mere commerce, Artists & Fleas serves as a consistent anchor from which entrepreneurs can launch tailored brands, hone skills and—as has happened consistently over the past decade—develop their transient businesses into brick-and-mortar presences.
Today, the “maker turned self-supporting business” narrative is common. But not at all long ago—specifically when the couple started Artists & Fleas in 2003 as a Sunday side project in a Williamsburg warehouse where “people hung out and a DJ sold sake and sushi and there was no heat”—supporting oneself with collected and self-made things was not possible. There was eBay, but “maker culture,” Glimer said, “was not” a thing yet.
Both Abrams and Glimer are from the Chicago suburbs; each of their parents had affinities for collecting. Glimer’s father ran an art gallery and, said Abrams, “My mom loved going to craft and flea markets to look at interesting collections of jewels. I really enjoyed going with her and finding something really special, valuing things made by people, understanding the story behind the objects.”
In essence, that is the philosophy behind Artists & Fleas: Their markets foster expressions of individualism and character through the art and jewelry and goods that are sold.
“We’re very thoughtful about categories,” Amy explained about choosing their vendors. “When my mom comes, who is 70, and finds things she loves, and a daughter’s friend, who is 17, comes and finds something she loves, and a friend who hates shopping comes and finds something, and then I bring my dad, and he finds something too… it becomes about a point of view, not just one person’s aesthetic.”
I wonder: If their mission is to support individual brands and a community around it, who do they turn away? “We want people to have a hand in the creation,” Abrams explained, so wholesale and imports are out. “We take pride in the fact that New York is still for artists and designers. Having a hand in that is still a very exciting thing for us.”
“You have to ask, what’s your legacy, what do I want people to associate me with?” Abrams continued, turning contemplative. “We’re still just a bunch of people who make stuff, and express something that’s inside of [us], versus looking at trends, and which one will be next.”
Photos by Maggie Shannon. Header image by Jessica Dillon.