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Vintage Matters: “The Working Man’s Market” Clinton-Bailey Farmers Market and Flea

As a first generation American, my parents had to be very frugal in terms of how to feed a family of nine on a single income. Like most large families in the 1970’s, buying things in bulk, directly from the source was an integral part of this plan, hence making regular stops at the Clinton-Bailey Farmers Market. It was always a part of our Saturday and Sunday mornings as we went to church close by on Scoville Avenue.

My father loved a bargain, so along with frequenting the farmers market, we also visited the the now defunct “Super Flea and Farmers Market” on Walden Avenue. Here for 40 plus years, among the lanes of the parking lot, one could find used tools, furniture, electrical devices of all sorts, clothing, homemade baked goods, and used bicycles and toys. There was an indoor area as well, but this catered more to new items, breakables, and collectibles like coins, comics and sports cards, which lacked the adventure of the parking lot. With its closing in May of 2014, a vacuum for a new working man’s market was created, with vendors scrambling to find a new home. These were not people looking to get rich, but folks that used that extra couple of hundred bucks a month to help them get by.

Clinton-Bailey has been a busy place since the 1930’s
Just picked eggplant was a prominent feature this late summer Saturday

Stepping in to fill that void is a “new” old school venue, located in the heart of one of Buffalo’s oldest neighborhoods. The Clinton-Bailey Market has been home to local farmers for over eighty years. But, with the number of fruit and veg vendors selling at Clinton-Bailey dwindling, it made sense to offer a new home to exiled vendors from Super Flea. Using the covered facilities available and some uncovered lanes for overflow, the beginnings of the “magic” that was Super Flea is starting to take shape. It has been a slow build, but being someone who is always on the hunt, I have followed its continued growth over the last few years. Today I see more and more of the familiar faces that worked Super Flea populating the aisles of Clinton Bailey Market, along with the regular farmers who have kept this place sacred since the 1930’s.

Shopping a market like this is a good thing – as much as some might look down their noses about sorting through random tables of homemade pickles, car parts, and bottles of laundry detergent. The people who sell here do so out of need, and bring an old world feel to what made Buffalo the melting pot we love. A look around at the customers and you will see a mix of all nationalities, all religions, and people from all walks of life. It is a tremendous reflection that represents the idea of America, and the influx of people who have come to western New York to start a new life.

Under the historical shelters of the past, vendors sell their wares

It is also green-cycling in the best ways. Rather than adding to landfills, here you can buy a tool with a lot of life left in it, for a fraction of what a hardware store might charge. One vendor told me that “vintage” here is what they use to call “used” – and as long as it sells – the buyer can call it whatever they want.

The Art Deco Administration Building of the Clinton Bailey Market

This is not a vintage market per say, but as someone who shops here regularly, there are treasures to be found. It is a great place to find early Buffalo brewery artifacts, art pottery, paintings, architectural antiques and all things retro. Sometimes it is like sifting for diamonds on a beach, but other times, I am shocked at what turns up. These vendors are not naive to what they have that is valuable, and you may have to pay up for that certain thing you hope to acquire. Unlike a retail store, spending your money here, you should also realize you may have also just helped someone pay an overdue bill, fix something broken on their car, or help get their kids the things they need to head back to school. What you spend here is not finding its way into corporate coffers, but stays in our community and raises the quality of life for us all.

Those treasures also include remarkably inexpensive fruits and vegetables, nursery stock and seasonal offerings like black raspberries in the spring, niagara county apples in the fall, and Christmas trees in winter. This is a place that stitches the fabric of our community together, and has offered a truly remarkable service to both vendors and customers. It might not be a place to be “seen”, but it is about as retro Buffalo as one can get.

Written by Steven Appler

Steven Appler

Antique aficionado, Steven Appler launched his passion for the hunt at the tender age of twelve, combing the wilds of South Park Lake in South Buffalo for cone-top beer cans, but instead finding a dead body. Since then, he has kept busy as an artist, art educator and college professor, and passionate antique picker, seller, and enthusiast of art and design, history, and research. A vintage find that is meaningful to you aesthetically, emotionally or monetarily is what makes antiquing such a worthwhile experience. Steven loves to share his knowledge from over 40 years of antiquing with his customers, and now his readers.

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