ST. PETERSBURG — The city is joining the ranks of San Francisco, Savannah, Ga., and Kansas City, Mo., with the advent of a monthly vintage market featuring 20 vendors selling eclectic merchandise in a former warehouse. Brocante Vintage Market is open the first weekend of every month at 2200 Second Ave. S in an 18,000-square-foot warehouse that once housed a wholesale piano business.
Brocante is a French word meaning "secondhand market." Around the country, retailers, real estate agents and pickers who find merchandise are combining forces to fill long-empty buildings with multiple entrepreneurs who can't afford to lease or fill a store on their own.
Celesta Carter, who started Brocante with her husband, Sean, doesn't know how many shoppers came through the doors for the Oct. 5-6 market but said the crowd has grown steadily since the first event in August. At the latest sale, more than 75 eager customers were lined up well before the doors opened at 9 a.m. Saturday to get the first look at what awaited inside.
"It's not a typical antique mall. It's not a flea market. Our inspiration came from a Parisian street market," Celesta Carter said. "We try to have some of everything but not too much of one thing. There's rustic, vintage industrial, cottage, midcentury, primitive, repurposed salvage, painted furniture, clothing, collectibles, art and more."
Recent items for sale include an oversized neon letter C for $55; a coffee table made from a painted wood pallet for $149; a tray featuring a circa 1960 U.S. map with area codes for $8; a wooden vanity painted lemon yellow for $65; a chandelier from Pepin restaurant for $69; and a rotating fan shaped like a robot for $39.
"I definitely think it fills a void for this type of fun weekend outing," said Kelli Welch, a customer who was surprised to find five lines, each about five people deep, at the checkout table. "They have a really eclectic collection. This appeals to a lot of different genres if you want something that's unique and not manufactured and that you know nobody else is going to have."
The Carters also own the 3-year-old Paper Street Market retail store at 915 Central Ave. After numerous pickers asked them if they could sell their vintage items found at yard sales, auctions and church bazaars there, they got the idea for a weekend vintage market like ones they'd seen in the Midwest.
"We tend to get a lot of first-time homeowners who don't want Grandma's doilies and dark furniture but they also don't want something brand-new with no history," she said.
But are there enough new or old homeowners in St. Petersburg to support a monthly market for the long haul? Carter thinks so.
"Even though you only own one home your home is always evolving," she said. Brocante also carries a variety of smaller, less expensive items that can be accent pieces or gifts.
The variety of merchandise makes the market unique, and so does the feeling that it encompasses numerous stores each with its own personality. Vendors take ownership of their spaces by installing lighting, staging scenes or hanging merchandise and accent pieces on the walls.
The sales floor takes up about a third of the warehouse while the rest is used for storage. About 40 percent of the merchandise is sold on Saturday so the place is restocked overnight with what's waiting in the back.
"By Sunday we are just pulling things out of storage as soon as other pieces sell," Carter said. The extra room also allows for the addition of more vendors and growth down the road.
"They have big plans. They are young entrepreneurs and they are motivated and they work hard," said Lisa Ulrich, the RE/MAX Metro agent who leased them the warehouse, which had been empty about a year.
"This is another venture that brings people to this area," said Dave Goodwin, St. Petersburg's economic development director. "A little bit here, a little bit there and then it starts to add up."
Brocante Vintage Market is across the street from 3 Daughters Brewing, a brewery and tasting room that is slated to open this year. It's a stone's throw from Sylvia's, the local branch of the iconic Harlem restaurant that's also opening before the end of the year. And a few blocks south on 22nd Street, developers Carolyn and Elihu Brayboy are revamping several buildings and opening a handful of new businesses, including a Cajun restaurant.
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More than 20 vendors rent spaces that range from 75 to 150 square feet and pay the Carters a percentage of their sales. Celesta Carter declined to discuss the financials but said there's a waiting list of sellers who want in.
Most buy items around Tampa Bay and Florida but she knows of a few who have driven or shipped things back from picking trips in North Carolina, Colorado and the Midwest.
Amy and Frank Thomas were pickers before the TV reality show American Pickers made people who troll yard sales and scour through old barns hip.
"We loved the hunt. But then we kind of had to stop because our house was bursting at the seams," Amy Thomas said from her corner space at Brocante. "Then we got an email about this and we were like, yes! The response has been great."
Frank Thomas makes furniture out of wooden pallets. Amy Thomas replaced the inlaid glass from the top of a side table she bought at a yard sale with a patchwork of yardsticks from places like Webb's City and St. Augustine's oldest school house.
"I like things that are different," she said.
Vendor Alexandra Byk came by her love for a brocante honestly.
"As a child in Paris my grandmother took me to the auction houses and the flea markets. I worked for an airline for 20 years and anytime I would travel I would try to hit a flea market. I think it's important to have a place like this full of things that aren't made in China," she said.
Perry Bonar developed his appreciation for older things when he was mowing lawns as a kid growing up in South Tampa. He always mowed one particular yard last and took his time when he put the mower away in the garage.
"I'd sit in there after I mowed and look at all their old stuff. They owned a coin store with high-end antiques in Britton Plaza and they kept lots of things in their garage," he recalled, while restocking his own space at Brocante. "I finally figured out that's how I got hooked on this old stuff."
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8785.