First-Ever Central Flea to Celebrate Cambridge’s Cultural History

central flea

Next week, the Central Square Business Association and New England Open Markets plan to issue a formal press release for the first-ever Central Flea, an outdoor, Brooklyn Flea-style market that’ll bring artists, vintage dealers, musicians and more to the square. But in the meantime, the NEOM team thought they’d make a Facebook event the organizations could use to drum up some initial interest.

After just over a week, the event page has more than 7,000 people interested in attending.

That’s by no means an exact indicator of how many people will show up, of course. “But man, folks are really glad that we’re doing something like this,” laughs Michael Monestime, executive director of the CSBA. And it does seem like an indicator that the people of Central Square—and more broadly, Cambridge—have an appetite for cultural and community-based events of this sort.

Monestime, who came on board as the CSBA’s director just a few months ago, says that plenty of recent surveys and reports about that neighborhood including the Central Square “C2” Plan have made non-zoning recommendations to improve the area. One such suggestion was to use parking lots as gathering spaces for outdoor arts events.

“We’re trying to activate in a new, exciting way,” says Monestime, adding that his goal is to create a “lively” space. “There is some great excitement out there, and we’re pumped.”

After he learned that New England Open Markets’ long-running flagship Boston event—the South End Open Market—was shutting down after 13 seasons, Monestime reached out to NEOM executive director Chris Masci about bringing a concept like that to Central Square, and he learned that Masci had been mulling over something similar.

Masci says that the vision is to provide a diverse, affordable market that’s accessible to all—especially secondhand sellers. In recent years, he explains, the local scene has been dominated by artisan markets. Not that that’s a bad thing: “We understand and appreciate the opportunities to indie artists and designers, but there is an untapped market that has been overlooked,” he explains. “Many vintage and antique dealers have to travel far out of the city to find venues.”

In fact, Masci had been eyeing Central as a home for a flea market concept before he was even approached by the CSBA. Central Square has been designated an official cultural district by the Massachusetts Cultural Council thanks to its “mix of small, funky, independently-owned shops and creative start-ups, with larger, well-established corporations, all supported by existing cultural resources such as public art, resident artists, dynamic cultural organizations, ethnic restaurants and leading educational institutions like Cambridge College and MIT.” The neighborhood has also been home to The World’s Fair and local happenings like Taste of Cambridge and River Fest.

“And there’s this great history of Caribbean folks who’ve lived in Central Square,” Monestime notes. “We have a deep history of a vibrant retail streetscape … it’s been a place where people gather and celebrate for decades.” The event will honor that history—from the food served to the music played to the dancers and performers who will take to the street, he and Masci want to support sellers and creators who come from right here in the city.

“We wanted to make it 1,000 percent authentic to Central Square, Cambridge,” Monestime says. “We wanted to create something that was unlike the other open markets … something with a touch of something for everybody—from every race and class, young folks to elders. Something that was true to Central Square.”

If the debut market is successful, the organizations plan to roll out a whole season of the Central Flea that could run through early October. And it certainly looks like it’ll be a hit; Masci says that within days of opening vendor applications, they received more than 300 submissions.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says, “and we couldn’t be more thrilled about our new venture in Cambridge.”

The Central Flea is scheduled for Sunday, June 25 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 95 Prospect St. Additional information is available on Facebook.

Update, July 18: Four monthly installments of the Central Flea have been added through the end of October, and the next event is scheduled for Sunday, July 30 at 11 a.m. Find more information on Facebook.