The flea’s story starts with a pair of earrings.
In the fall after Brad Groznik graduated from college, he visited New York with friends. On a whim, one suggested a trip to Brooklyn to secure a new pair of studs, and so off they went: a group of 20-somethings on a mission for chic jewelry. And New York, the city with just about everything, was the place to do it, despite some initial resistance from Groznik.
Earring shopping, he said, wasn’t his idea of a good time.
“I was like ‘why do I have to go earring shopping?’ he said. “But I wasn’t expecting what we found.”
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Their misadventure took them to a warehouse in Fort Greene, a trendy, tree-lined neighborhood cornered by Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill. It was a slice of bohemia, a stippling of abstract art on the city’s pastiche of broad, bold strokes. The chimes and dimes of Wall Street were echoing just across the Brooklyn Bridge.
“I thought ‘man, I’m not cool enough to be there,’ ” Groznik said. “It was such a cool scene.”
But the warehouse wasn’t a mere storage unit. Inside, vintage clothes hung next to impromptu food stands, peddling some of the finest street grub in the world. Jewelry dangled in front of vendors, while the visitors — some rakish, some purposely unrefined — perused their wares. David Bowie, spinning on vinyl, provided the night’s soundtrack.
What he thought would be a drag turned out to be an ad-lib party, one he would remember about a decade later.
“What’s really cool about these events is that, I think, a lot of the ladies in this area will drag their boyfriends,” Groznik said, “and their boyfriends are going to realize ‘oh, there’s stuff for me here, too.’ ”
By then he hadn’t yet asked Andrea, his future wife, out on a date. The pair knew each other while studying at Penn State, but didn’t start dating until they both moved to New York right before the market crash of 2008.
Like many city dwellers, Andrea stumbled upon the “best-kept secret,” too. Her sister, Dana, lived in Williamsburg, another neighborhood in Brooklyn, and through her she found out about the urban “fleas,” or the spontaneous street bashes inflected with a dash of brio and a dollop of joie de vivre.
Now the couple are the impresarios of their own urban-style flea, which they’ve dubbed “Pop Up Ave.” Located in the Garner Street Parking lot in downtown State College, the flea plays local variations on its New York-inspired theme. Vendors from across Pennsylvania will feature their creations, while live music will provide the day’s beat. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“We’re trying to create an overall urban, artistic experience,” Andrea said. “I think people hear the word ‘flea’ and they picture antiques and kind of an organized yard sale. This is really a curated mix.”
The idea began bubbling in January. By February, the pair started reaching out to vendors.
“One of the hardest things for us is describing what we’re trying to do,” Brad said. “A lot of people see Arts Fest, they see People’s Choice, they see the farmers markets, but what we’re trying to do is something different. It’s that Brooklyn aesthetic; it’s that urban flea market.”
In May, they recruited Victoria Babb, a senior in Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, to assist with the flea. A State College native, Babb, 21, shared the same love of New York’s urban flair while still being versed in the college-town vibe. When Brad told her about the project, she was sold.
“There’s never been something as unique and cultural as an event like this,” she said, “and I think that Arts Fest is really great, but it’s not necessarily a clientele that I can associate with, especially the products. They’re out of my price range, they’re not necessarily styles of clothing that I would wear or types of art I would want to put on my wall.
“But what’s really great about this event is everything is affordable, and it’s all in a style that makes sense for my generation.”
And so the work began. Babb researched vendors, vetting for the milieu and logistics, while promoting the flea through social media. The marketing major also went back to basics, posting reams of fliers around town by hand.
“It’s been really interesting to see how many interesting companies are in Pennsylvania that I would have never assumed were,” she said. “... It’s stuff you would find in a big city that you forget can happen in a smaller scale. And so we get the opportunity to bring them all together in one event.”
The flea, which features more than 39 vendors, will hold a variegated blend of color and sound. There will be handmade clothes, herbal teas, natural balms and liniments, snowboards and vintage records. Meanwhile, a bake sale’s aromas will mingle with artisanal spices, while the Penn State-Pittsburgh football game is blaring from a tailgate truck not far away.
Several local businesses, such as The Makery and the Discovery Space, will be present, too. A full list can be found on the event’s Facebook page.
And there will be earrings, too. Invited artisans of handmade jewelry sell a few that are jangly hoops — or full circles.
“What we’re doing is so new for some of these businesses,” Brad said. “I was surprised there wasn’t one here already.”
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy
IF YOU GO
What: Pop Up Ave.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Garner Street parking lot, downtown State College