On a dusty lot near the corner of Dundas Street West and Keele Street one recent Sunday, a young woman sat having her portrait taken inside an old storage container which, using wooden signs and an old-fashioned box camera, had been refashioned into a 19th-century photo studio. The resulting image, produced on a thin piece of aluminum, had a bronzed, antique look to it – as if she'd travelled to the 1880s in just 20 minutes.
Around her, vendors sitting under tents hawked all varieties of items that nodded to the past, from antique furniture and vintage clothing to handmade treats and jewelery.
The occasion? The Junction Flea, a new monthly outdoor market specializing in antiques and vintage items in the city's west end.
Between the groups of hip twentysomethings sifting through stacks of records, the Mason jars and the vintage typewriters, the market felt not only like a step back in time, but also a lot like, well, present-day Brooklyn.
Like the wildly popular Brooklyn Flea in New York, which has been running since 2008, the Junction Flea is described by its organizers as a "curated market." The vendors are chosen specifically with an eye on the neighbourhood's rapidly changing demographics – some serious antique shoppers, some long-time neighbourhood residents, but in general, mostly a younger, image-conscious crowd.
The Junction Flea's organizers, Micah Lenahan (owner of vintage and design shop Russet and Empire) and Paul Mercer (owner of upcycled-furniture shop Smash), said their market isn't meant to be a clone of the Brooklyn one. In fact, both said they hadn't even been to the Brooklyn Flea before they organized their own. But though it wasn't their inspiration, knowledge of its success did give them optimism that the same kind of event could work in Toronto.
The Brooklyn Flea's massive success has spawned copycat markets all over New York, prompting The New York Times last year to declare "the flea marketing of New York all but complete." Which leads to the question: Is Toronto next?
The Junction Flea is only in its third month of operation, but so far, the response has been very positive, Ms. Lenahan said. She estimates about 2,000 customers attended each market, and said that the applications from people wanting to be vendors have doubled with each event. Though the pair had originally intended on only running the market until the end of the summer, they're now looking for indoor spaces so that they can extend into the fall and winter.
Paul Sergeant, one of the owners of Tintype Studio, the group that creates the aluminum portraits, said that the attraction of his product (and many of the items at the flea market) is the promise of owning a one-of-a-kind object.
Michael Prokopow, a history professor at OCAD who has done extensive research on flea markets, said that this "one of a kind" quality is important in understanding the attraction of flea markets. People, he explained, buy or "self-curate" stuff in order to express who they are, or who they want to portray themselves as .
Owning flea-market finds or antiques, then "suggests a certain level of discernment, that you're culturally informed," Mr. Prokokow said. "That you can tell the difference between mass-produced crap, and handmade singular objects."
But people don't just come for the stuff, vendors say. (After all, if it's antique or handmade items you're after, Etsy has that covered.) They come for the experience – an escape from the monotony of big-box stores, or shopping malls, away from the constant barrage of ads and technology.
"It's more a social occasion than a shopping event," said Janet Dimond of Augie's Gourmet Ice Pops, who sells handmade popsicles at the market. "People hang out, they're chit-chatting, seeing their neighbours."
Anthony Rose, the former chef at the Drake Hotel, was a vendor at the last Junction Flea, despite the fact that he's in the process of setting up a permanent restaurant for himself. He loves markets, he said, because "it's really nice to know who's making your stuff – all the love and attention they put into it."
As for whether markets similar to the Junction Flea will multiply in Toronto in the future, Mr. Prokopow sees this as inevitable – "I can definitely see an east-end market, a 'Leslieville Flea,' perhaps," he said. After decades of people immigrating to Toronto, he said "you get lots of stuff. After a while, all that stuff has to be unleashed."
But for Mr. Sergeant of TinType Studio, he wonders whether too many markets might spoil the serendipitous quality that makes them so appealing to begin with. "I don't know if we need more," he said. "It's kind of a sweet, quaint thing to have just one a month."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of vendor Janet Dimond. This online version has been corrected.