The management of the Merrick Flea Market in Springfield Gardens has arrived at a compromise with area residents who had some quality of life concerns related to the business. The plan was devised after a meeting between the two groups at the site last Thursday orchestrated by City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton).
“If there is a problem, we are going to deal with it right here, because you’re important to us,” said flea market managing partner Mike Berman. “You live here, and we respect that.”
Neighbor R. Samuels voiced concerns over flea market customers and vendors causing a litter problem in the area surrounding the store, which is located at Merrick Boulevard and 221st Street.
“You see them with the bags, with the boxes and they leave their cartons and stuff all over the place,” Samuels said. “This place is filthy all the way around and up and down our street. They come with their breakfast, their lunch, their plates. They eat and they throw the trash all over the ground and then we get tickets from Sanitation.”
Robert Bas, a manager at the flea market, said that staffers clean the surrounding area twice a day, in the morning and evening, but vowed to add a third round to the regimen to do an even better job. He also said he would put additional trash cans out to deter customers from throwing garbage on the floor. The managers also promised to set aside a space for vendors to put their empty boxes and cartons.
Felicia Bams, president of the 222nd Street Block Association, wanted management to put a stop to vendors unloading their wares at 4 a.m. and waking up neighbors with the noise.
“We are going to tell the vendors that whenever they show up, they only unload in our yard,” Berman said. “And if a vendor doesn’t follow the rules, they can’t be here, because we have to live with our neighbors.”
Resident Laura Harrison was concerned that the front gate of the market is left open even when the store is closed and that it is inviting to criminal activity. “God forbid a child comes in here at night and gets molested or something,” she said. “It’s just easy, the way people are today, for someone to just drag somebody in, so it’s a safety issue.”
Berman said the gate is broken and that’s why it hadn’t been pulled down, but he said management will make sure it is fixed and closed in the future.
Harrison and Bams also took issue with the vendors displaying large items, like washers, dryers and water heaters out on the sidewalk in front of the store.
“It looks junky,” Bams said. “It brings down the value of our neighborhood. You may be on a commercial street, but this area is predominantly residential.”
Berman said he would check to see if placing the items on the sidewalk is in violation of sanitation rules and proceed from there.
Bams was also concerned about parking in the area. Since the flea market has been doing a booming business, finding a spot in the neighborhood has become increasingly difficult and residents have found vehicles illegally parked in front of their driveways and fire hydrants.
“If our homes catch fire and the fire trucks can’t get to the hydrant, our homes will burn down — so you say ‘We’re the flea market, we have nothing to do with that,’ but you brought this now into our community,” Bams said. “We’ve never had this issue before.”
Berman said the flea market has on-site parking, plus valet service on the weekends. But that too poses a problem, according to Bams.
“The men that you have on the street that have the flags are beckoning them to come this way,” Bams said. “They are holding back traffic, so they can turn illegally.”
Traffic around the flea market along with Parts Authority, which is an auto parts store, and United Baptist Church of Truth, has led to an increase in accidents with numerous drivers making illegal U-turns at the intersection, residents say. They brought the problem to the attention of Queens Department of Transportation Commissioner Maura McCarthy earlier this month.
As a result of the meeting, DOT will be installing a no U-turn sign at the intersection by June 30, according to Donovan Richards, acting chief of staff to Sanders.
“As far as people not being respectful and blocking driveways and fire hydrants, we are going to have to have an education session — that’s what we have to do. I am in favor of those cars being ticketed and towed. If they’re breaking the law, we don’t need that, and we don’t want that. You, our neighbors, are the most important people,” Berman said.
He added that the flea market will post signs letting customers know that if they park illegally, they will be towed and said that the valet parkers will no longer try to entice traffic into the flea market when it’s crowded. “We truly value your relationship, and we will do what is necessary to address these issues, one by one,” Berman said.
Sanders suggested that the groups form a temporary advisory committee with flea market management, vendors and community members meeting once a month or as needed to make sure that any problems that arise are addressed. All parties supported the idea.
Although the meeting ended smoothly, it did not begin that way. Someone had told the vendors that neighbors had held a rally a week earlier and were trying to shut them down, so they initially confronted residents with signs that read, “Merrick Flea Market is a Good Neighbor,” and “Merrick Flea Market Brought Over 100 Jobs to the Community.”
The “rally” was actually a meeting held on April 18 between three residents, Sanders and Richards. The residents have consistently maintained that they are not against the market staying open or people shopping there, they just have a few concerns. And it appears management is listening.