The bazaar, the oldest newest idea for small businesses

February 25, 2013

In an FT column today Dave Eggers pines for the days when schools taught metal and woodworking. “It doesn’t all have to be keyboards and screens, does it?” he asks.

It certainly doesn’t.

Many small business in the U.S. are  becoming part of a new wave of small-scale and super premium manufacturing. There’s any number of examples to look at, like the plumbing parts manufacturing in Brooklyn, the artisanal chocolate makers and the distillers in Boston.

There’s also no shortage of stories focusing on Brooklyn’s manufacturing boom. Turns out we are making things with our hands even if schools don’t teach us how anymore.

Of course Brooklyn, with its close proximity to Manhattan and available factory space, can’t be a model for every city that wants to develop a micro-manufacturing center specializing in pickles, bicycles and chocolate.

But there’s an old idea that Eggers touches on that’s taking hold in New York that other cities can and should appropriate. And it’s such an old concept that Brooklyn can’t even take credit for it. It’s the bazaar, as old as market capitalism itself.

In New York City, we’ve seen a few bazaars sprout up in the last few years. Of course here they’re called “fleas” because this has a retro feel to it and sounds cooler than simply calling something a “market.” But make no mistake, these are nothing new. They are just updated variations of the old mall/market/bazaar.

There’s my favorite, the Pop Up Flea, which returned this year bigger than ever and boasting a Microsoft sponsorship. And then there’s the mother of fleas, the Brooklyn Flea, an outdoor flea that seeks shelter in the old Williamsburg Bank building during colder months to attract consumers all year. It’s also grown a spinoff market for food vendors called Smorgasburg. And if there’s doubt about growth potential for these markets, consider one investor the Brooklyn Flea’s founders recently attracted: Goldman Sachs.

Goldman invested $25 million dollars to help the Brooklyn Flea build out a communal cooking space for food startups, as the New York Times reported. That’s not the only food incubator in town either. Somewhat shockingly to Eggers, people have embraced his idea to build a communal market space for small business and manufacturers:

Every time I pitched it, I half-hoped someone would tell me it was a terrible or unworkable idea, because I have none of the concrete expertise – in small manufacturing, real estate, renovating former mints – necessary to make it happen. But so far, no one’s told me what I wanted to hear. Instead, too many people have said yes.

Eggers may prefer to think of himself as a writer and not an entrepreneur. But as the founder of a small but respected publishing empire, he shouldn’t be so surprised by those “yeses.”  Here’s to Egger’s entrepreneurial instinct and to the old concept of the market, or the bazaar, or the flea…whatever you want to call it.


Image: A shop vendor waits for customers in Grand Bazaar of Istanbul March 3, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

One comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

The fact of the matter is a lot of the so called green technology that people are embracing and a lot of the green movement which urges people to produce organic food for themselves, even the business of recycling, let alone bringing back bazaars, is all pretty standard operating procedure in Third World countries. Think about it.

Posted by Symbolic | Report as abusive