San Jose Flea Market payment opens door to vendors’ future
Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association representatives Mariana Mejia, Roberto Gonzalez and Keila Escobedo Vega are pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose has recently received funds from the landowner of the Berryessa Flea Market to help transition vendors following last year’s City Council vote to rezone the property for future development.

    The Bumb family, who owns the land, wired the first $500,000 installment of $5 million a few days before the Jan. 1 deadline to San Jose. This installment enables the city’s Office of Economic Development, the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association and advocates to set up an advisory committee to determine the flea market’s future. The group has met bi-monthly since the June vote and plans to use part of the initial allotment to hire consultants to help shape the scope, size and goals of the advisory committee and fund two studies.

    The payment is part of an agreement to help support sellers as they prepare for the flea market’s closure. The shutdown will displace many of the 450-plus vendors who operate at the city’s largest flea market.

    The deal, however, guarantees the 61-year-old flea market will remain open at least until July 2024. The closure is dependent on the developer’s timeline for the Berryessa BART Urban Village—a 3.4 million-square-foot mixed-use project that will sit on the flea market site.

    Plans and payments

    To support vendors, the Bumb family will dole out the remaining $4.5 million before the flea market closes in two different allotments—$2 million when the vendors receive the one-year notice of the closure and the final $2.5 million on the last day of operation. The city will allocate an additional $2.5 million to support the vendors, bringing the total to $7.5 million.

    The advisory committee will be tasked with supporting vendors through the transition period, deciding how to spend the remainder of the $7.5 million and potentially identify sites for a new flea market.

    The vendors are interested in a worker-owned operation, said Nanci Klein, San Jose’s deputy director in the Office of Economic Development. The consultants will assist in that endeavor.

    In the next two weeks, the city plans to send out a request for proposals to contract the consultants.

    Klein told San José Spotlight the city has two goals with this new money: both to conserve and leave as much money for the vendors overall and to make sure the vendors are supported through the transition.

    Mariana Mejia, Roberto Gonzalez and Kaled Escobedo Vega, part of the leadership of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, announced a hunger strike days before the City Council approved a redevelopment plan for the market site. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    The next stage

    Although the advisory committee is still in the planning stage, membership will be comprised of a super majority of flea market vendors, advocates from community organizations like Catalyze SV and a representative from the Bumb family.

    “I think summer is when we could see that completed, but we are hoping for much sooner than that,” Klein said.

    Klein estimates the cost of the consultants, an economic study of the flea market and a real estate assessment to help vendors find a new site will total $350,000. The remaining balance of the $500,000 will be saved and potentially given as direct stipends to vendors or applied toward other costs.

    The economic assessment will review and highlight the benefits of the flea market for the city, vendors, residents and small businesses over the last six decades.

    “That will be valuable because the next generation of the flea market will most likely require investors and philanthropy so the study will show the strength and value of the market,” Klein said.

    The real estate assessment will allow the advisory committee to determine the location of a new flea market and if it can be worker-owned. Self-sufficiency is one of the main goals of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, which represents the 450-plus vendors.

    “Having a future market that’s going to be run and operated by us would empower our people,” said Roberto Gonzalez, president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association. “We also wouldn’t have these instances where this already rich landowner is trying to get even more rich.”

    Gonzalez was referring to a $300 deposit imposed on vendors to cover any damages, despite many operating out of tents. Another point of frustration among vendors is the way the owners responded to their request to allow vendors to have six-month leases. The lease agreements required six months of payment in advance.

    “It was surprising, but it’s also impossible,” Gonzalez told San José Spotlight. “For example, my father and I pay $1,400 a month. We don’t have six times that amount sitting in our bank, just like most other vendors.”

    No vendors signed onto the six-month lease for that reason, Gonzalez said.

    Alex Shoor, executive director of Catalyze SV who is part of the coalition supporting vendors, called it a pattern of “economic abuse” imposed by the Bumb family.

    “It is preposterous and offensive and out of bounds for anyone to suggest that the vendor should pay all six months up front,” Shoor told San José Spotlight.

    Erik Schoennauer, a land use consultant who represents the Bumb family, disagreed.

    “At the end of the day, there really is no need for a six-month lease agreement, because the market owners agreed that the flea market would remain in operation until July 1, 2024,” Schoennauer said, adding that requiring payments up front is standard practice. “As long as vendors are following the rules, they will not be evicted so there’s no no risk of termination.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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