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My freshman year at NYU, I excitedly woke up at 8am on a Sunday and rode the N train to Times Square. I know, it sounds like blasphemy – a college student waking up before noon on a Sunday and a burgeoning New Yorker excited to be in Times Square? How could it be?!
But theatre lovers are not exactly known for making a lot of sense (like, for example, it’s theatre’s fault that I am attracted to Spongebob Squarepants – thanks a lot, Ethan Slater). And when that Sunday happens to be the third Sunday of September – aka the Broadway Flea Market – aka “Broadway Christmas” – there’s a lot to be excited about.
The Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction (or just ‘Broadway Flea,’ if you’re feeling friendly), is an over 30-year long tradition of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. You might know BC/EFA as the charity responsible for post-show red bucket fundraising or as the organization that blessed us all by allowing Taylor Swift to literally buy the shirt off of Hugh Jackman’s back. But you should know BC/EFA for the work they do to alleviate suffering not only from HIV/AIDS, but also from a number of other health and humanitarian concerns.
Now that I’ve been around the block a few times (literally) with the Flea, I wanted to share 5 tips for making your Broadway Flea the best Broadway Christmas possible.
Top 5 Tips for the BC/EFA Broadway Flea Market
1. Go in with zero expectations
All of the items up for grabs at the Broadway Flea are donated by Broadway lovers giving their collections to the cause, which means there’s no way of knowing what you might find from year-to-year. Sure, there will always be old standbys like Playbills and t-shirts available – but if you go in thinking your Broadway Flea experience will be ruined if you don’t find a specific Playbill or t-shirt, you’ll more than likely end up disappointed. Like any flea market, the joy of the Broadway Flea is in the discovery – in finding the rare item that you didn’t even know you wanted.
My favorite find of the 2018 Broadway Flea was a collection of black zippered pouches of increasing size, each with a print of a different Jujamcyn theatre – all for $15. $15! I couldn’t have possibly known I’d find that hiding on The Broadway League’s table, and I certainly couldn’t have planned to find it. But by being willing to explore and rummage, I opened myself to my best find of the Flea.
2. Know what you want.
I know, I know. It sounds like a contradiction – go in with zero expectations, but know what you want. But hear me out: the Broadway Flea moves fast. If you don’t have a sense of what you are looking for, you won’t be able to pounce when you find it. And if you don’t pounce right away, you might miss out on an amazing find and end up kicking yourself. So, while you shouldn’t have too specific an idea of what you’re looking for, you should have an idea of the type of thing you’re looking for. Whether you’re a mug collector, a magnet fan, or on the hunt for vintage Playbills, at least you’ll have a sense of what to look for.
3. Make sure you have cash in hand.
This is a simple one. While there are always a few tables set up to process credit card charges, you’ll save time if you can just hand over cash (and even better, exact change!). And, if you’re on a budget, keeping an eye on what’s left in your wallet is a good way of making sure you don’t go too crazy.
4. Arrive early, but stick around a while.
If you’re willing to brave Times Square in the (somewhat) early morning, you should aim to arrive at the Broadway Flea when it begins for a better shot at snagging some of the more coveted items. But, if you’re willing to stick around for a while, you might find that some of the less sought-after items have dropped in price. In short, you should arrive early for the great finds and stay late for the great deals.
This year, I passed on a $30 Once hoodie because it was a little more than I wanted to spend (though it was still a great deal when you consider theatres typically sell hoodies for $40-$60!). I took a couple more laps around the tables, broke for lunch at Schnippers, and then stopped by that table again on my final lap. Sure enough, the price had dropped to $15! Of course, playing the waiting game comes with some risk – they were out of size large so I had to settle for a medium – but if you’re okay with a little gamble, it doesn’t hurt to wait it out.
5. Remember what it’s all about.
Last year, I had to pass on book of sheet music from Hamilton that was hand signed by Alex Lacamoire, the show’s music director and orchestrator – and a huge creative inspiration for my boyfriend, David. As badly as I wanted David to have that book, it was priced way higher than I could comfortably spend, and I was gutted. So let me tell you what I did: nothing. I did not beg, or haggle, or tell the volunteers running the Hamilton table that they were ridiculous scammers (all things I’ve overheard at the Flea, by the way). I just walked away.
I get it, it’s tough to finally find the diamond in the rough, only to find it’s out of your price range. But at the end of the day, the BC/EFA Broadway Flea Market isn’t about us, it’s about BC/EFA. And even though I didn’t get my signed Hamilton book last year – I’m sure someone else did. And because they did, BC/EFA made over $1 Million in 2017 to support of their absolutely vital programming. And isn’t that what it’s all about?