Manhattan denizen Rips shares his passion for the Chelsea Flea Market, which used to be “one of the largest flea markets in America.”
At its zenith, the market thrived on the west side of Manhattan, mostly on Saturdays and Sundays, with buyers and sellers coming and going from abandoned parking garages, open-air lots, old office buildings, and sidewalk stands. In his third book, Rips, who lives in the Chelsea Hotel and serves as the executive director of the Art Students League of New York, focuses his compact yet detailed narrative of oddball possessions and quirky humans on a parking garage that offered merchandise from dozens of vendors. Their customers included native New Yorkers seeking bargains, tourists wandering by, “pickers” searching for underpriced treasures that could be resold for profit, and buyers who could be considered hoarders. In addition to chronicling the goings-on of the many eccentric characters that frequented the market, the author also writes about his daughter and their trips together to the flea. She seemed to enjoy herself, and many of the vendors enjoyed entertaining her. Throughout the book, Rips muses, often entertainingly, on the people he met during his forays in this unique environment, but few of his portraits feel more substantial than sketches. While he is to be commended for diligently listening to them spin their background stories—many of them likely embellished—Rips rarely verified the facts of these sagas, preferring to hear without judgment. Because the author identifies the characters only by first names and nicknames, readers may need to take the findings with a grain of salt. There’s a sometimes-pleasing surreal quality to this journey that fits the idiosyncratic landscape—in which sellers hawked everything from “paintings, lithographs and photographs” to “canes, vintage clothes, costume jewelry, tools, Asian scrolls, screens, and jade, sports memorabilia, and African art,” not to mention “stacks of crumbling newspapers and magazines”—but one wonders if Rips could have dug even deeper to produce a fuller picture of this world of lost and forgotten treasures.
An intriguing but slight sociological snapshot.