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Alemany Flea Market vendors hope for the best but fear the city’s budget knife

Vendors sell goods at a farmers market parking lot in sunshine.
Vendors watch tables laden with wares and greet customers hunting bargains at Sunday’s Alemany Flea Market in San Francisco. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

For decades, the Alemany Flea Market has been a Sunday ritual in San Francisco, drawing thousands of bargain hunters and vendors to a large parking lot in the southeast corner of the city's Bernal Heights neighborhood.

But this past weekend, a sense of foreboding hung over the card tables piled with record albums, crockery, artwork, garden tools, hats, rugs, footwear, statues, toy cars and wicker baskets.

The city decided a few weeks ago to soon shutter the Civic Center’s Fulton Plaza flea market. Now vendors are worried that the much-larger Alemany Flea Market could be the next to go.

A city spokesperson confirmed last week that all municipal programs were in the process of being evaluated for potential cuts due to fiscal constraints, but said no final decisions had been made regarding Alemany.

But in the run-up to a March 29 end-date for several vendors at the Civic Center Fulton Plaza flea market, several vendors who spoke to The Standard on Sunday said they fear their weekly community hub could become another casualty of San Francisco's budget woes.

A man wearing sunglasses, a straw hat and denim jacket and jeans sits on a stool surrounded by vintage goods for sale.
Jon Rolston, a business owner, says he has sold goods at San Francisco's Alemany Flea Market for more than a decade. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Jon Rolston said vendors had only recently heard about any possibility of closure. Rolston has sold items at Alemany for a decade. He brings salvaged and reusable goods to Alemany every Sunday that he argues would otherwise be likely to wind up in a landfill.

"What better way to divert usable items from the waste stream of the city than a flea market?" he said.

"It's an invaluable resource. It would be offensive that they would consider closing this, but it makes sense, because this is not glamorous and not a jewel in the crown of San Francisco."

A goateed man wearing a gray fleece jacket, brown cap and jeans stands in sunshine
Luis De Avila, a South San Francisco resident, says he has visited and sold items at the Alemany Flea Market for years. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Luis De Avila, 70, said closing Alemany would be a blow to working-class families who come to buy, sell and swap collectibles as a hobby and a supplemental income source. De Avila has been frequenting street markets in San Francisco since he moved here from Mexico in 1968.

"I restore stuff for antiques or whatever. Then I sell them," De Avila said. "I make a little bit of money, the city makes a little bit of money. It's a great place for the community."

He believes budget issues are merely a convenient excuse for officials eyeing the market's prime real estate for more profitable uses.

A man in a gray and black jacket, black cap and sunglasses stands behind a table laden with metal cases containing jewelry for sale.
Bryan Wilson says Sunday he comes down once a month from Oregon to sell items at San Francisco's Alemany Flea Market. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Bryan Wilson, who drives down from Oregon once a month to sell at Alemany, said the market creates an interdependence between vendors and surrounding communities.

"I would say it supports my family," Wilson said. "I'll end up making a month's worth of income in one weekend, with the devoted customers and clientele that I've established over the years."

He said market administrators are pretty strict about not allowing unlicensed vendors: "They're very on point. We protect ourselves very heavily. Anybody encroaching on it gets stomped out pretty quickly."

A man in a plaid shirt and jeans stands beside a row of items for sale along a sidewalk.
Robert Perlman sets up to sell a bicycle and other goods along a Tompkins Avenue sidewalk outside the Alemany Flea Market in San Francisco on Sunday. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

While the market's several-dozen vendor stalls are tightly regulated and screened for prohibited goods, some enterprising vendors set up merchandise curbside along Tompkins Avenue Sunday morning before being shooed away by police.

One of the vendors, Robert Perlman, speculated that he'd have to take his wares to East Oakland's Coliseum Way swap meet if Alemany closes.

Rows of booths with baskets of clothing and goods await customers at an outdoor flea market.
Customers mill along a central aisle and check out vendors' goods Sunday at San Francisco's Alemany Flea Market. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Other vendors described Alemany as a one-of-a kind bazaar frequented by bargain hunters of all stripes, from wealthy collectors and antique dealers to handymen, treasure seekers and people nursing hangovers.

"Please don't close it," said one vendor who would only give her first name, Georgina. "We need our little income from this. It helps the family."

George Kelly can be reached at