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The next victim of San Francisco budget cuts: long-running flea markets

a middle-aged middle eastern man in glasses frowns at a market stall surrounded by apparel
Manny Fakhari sets up his booth at the Fulton Plaza 'Gift Gallery' at Civic Center, which is shutting down next week. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Freshta and Manny Fakhari, who live in Union City, have sold scarves, wallets and jewelry at Civic Center’s Fulton Plaza flea market twice a week for the last seven or eight years. They maintain four adjacent canopies, and the city has given them a deal on rent, charging them only $90 per day instead of $120. Declining to specify how much they earn each day, Freshta said the amount is in the hundreds of dollars. 

“This is a decent income for me and my husband,” she said. They sell at other Bay Area flea markets on Saturdays and Sundays, too, “but the weekend income is not enough.”

Soon the Fakharis won’t be able to rely on that weekday income either, as the city has decided to shutter the market.

A few weeks ago, the Office of the City Administrator, which manages the site through a partnership with the Civic Center Community Business District, informed some Fulton Plaza vendors that their last day will be March 29. 

city hall's rotunda is visible on a gray day behind racks of merchandise being sold under white canopies
The Gift Gallery has taken place every Thursday and Friday, barely a block from City Hall. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

The planned closure, which hasn’t been reported, would mark the end to a decadeslong bazaar that takes place every Thursday and Friday, barely a block from San Francisco City Hall.  Several licensed vendors sell items ranging from sunglasses to turquoise rings to African masks, paying the city a modest $60 per day to put up two 8-foot canopies’ worth of stuff.

For this fee, the city provides little more than a security guard and someone to help put up vendors’ booths by 9 a.m. and take them down at 4 p.m. It’s worked that way for decades, although since the pandemic, the number of vendors at the officially named “Gift Gallery” has fallen from more than 10 to as few as five or even three. 

dummies sport womens hats, sunglasses and scarves on a merchandise table
The Gift Gallery is run by the Office of the City Administrator, which also operates the Alemany Flea Market in Bernal Heights on Sundays. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Abraham Pando, who’s been selling items like audio equipment, hats and gift items at Fulton Plaza for 25 years, said the bazaar’s disappearance would represent a considerable blow. Fakhari believes that the city simply couldn’t be bothered to keep Gift Gallery going, and the city-appointed manager, Thu Nguyen, didn’t particularly want the vendors, who are fully permitted, to stay. 

“She was complaining that the labor of the tents was too much,” Freshta Fakhari said of Nguyen. “She was saying, ‘Oh, you guys don’t give us enough money, so we have to shut you guys down.’” 

Nguyen, a city employee with responsibilities beyond the Gift Gallery, declined to comment when The Standard visited Thursday morning. However, Angela Yip, a spokesperson for the Office of the City Administrator, confirmed the March 29 closure and said the department’s Real Estate Division had informed vendors of that date in January. She disputed the allegation the city wanted the vendors out, noting that the Gift Gallery has been shrinking for some time.

“In the past few months, we’ve only had four or five vendors a week—sometimes less,” Yip said. “Due to declining interest and impact on staff resources, Real Estate had to make a difficult decision.”

a Latino man under a canopy sets up a merchandise table in front of a white van
Abraham Pando has been a vendor for the last 25 years. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

'I have to survive'

Civic Center has been in flux lately, as the city seeks to transform the neighborhood into a grander, more heavily used space, with a new skate park, large-scale public art and, for a brief period last summer, a carnival. Last year, in a controversial move, the twice-weekly Heart of the City Farmers Market was relocated to make room for the skate park

As is the case with so many things in the city, the management of U.N. Plaza and Fulton Plaza fall under the jurisdiction of several departments and agencies, including the Recreation and Park Department and the City Administrator's Office. A separate nonprofit runs Heart of the City, which did not reply to a request for comment.

a woman shops in front of a table lined with gifty-merchandise, beneath a white canopy.
Brenda White shops at Freshta and Manny Fakhari’s booth at the Fulton Plaza Gift Gallery. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

The Fakharis and other vendors claim that the City Administrator's Office isn’t merely shutting down the Gift Gallery, but may also torpedo the much-larger Alemany Flea Market, held every Sunday in Bernal Heights. This would come at a time when San Francisco is already cracking down on illicit vending at 24th Street BART Plaza, among other places, meaning vendors have fewer and fewer locations to make a living.

No final decision on the Alemany Flea Market has been made, Yip said. But its future is under discussion.

a row of white canopies at an outdoor market on a cloudy day near city hall's rotunda
The Gift Gallery has shrunk considerably from its pre-pandemic size, and some days see only four or five vendors. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

“Departments have been asked to cut their budgets,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that there’s something imminent, but the next few years will have a lot of difficult budget things.”

For now, the Fakharis are trying to reckon with an imminent loss of almost half their income. After next week, they may simply continue to put up the canopies themselves.

“Hopefully, something happens,” Manny Fakhari said. “I'm here because I have to be here. I have to survive.”

Astrid Kane can be reached at