Public Comment

Commentary: Improving the Ashby Flea Market, By: George Katechis

Friday March 17, 2006

I feel a little bit helpless. The words have been spoken, declared and proclaimed. “We are not moving.” What used to be a flower has wilted and died. The Flea Market is not what it used to be. I doubt that many of the sellers there are actually from the neighborhood. To me it’s just another example of people from outside the neighborhood coming in and dictating to us how it’s going to be. 

Osha Newman has his heart in the right place, but he is working with a dead flower. The Flea Market could be a vibrant, happening place, but not as it is now. I have a music store kitty corner to the Flea Market (The Berkeley Musical Instrument Exchange). I’ve been there for 31 years. I live close by and have watched the neighborhood change. I have nothing against the Flea Market or the sellers. It’s a great place to enter the economy. I started my music business selling instruments at flea markets. I never would have been able to afford to rent a store.  

In other countries, Mexico for example, all the transportation centers are surrounded by stalls that people rent by the day or week. I think the area above the flea market, on Adeline Street should be developed into such an area. We don’t need a six-lane highway going through our neighborhood. The fact is, we should be discouraging car use. The area above the Flea Market could be put to a much better use. As it is now, it is like a demilitarized zone. There’s absolutely nothing going on there. There could be stalls, food venders, little repair stalls, who knows what? It could be happening seven days a week. Stalls would mean no rainouts. The stalls would have to be very basic, barely sheltered and with no permanent power. Or who knows? That area could be like a mini Solano Stroll, and we could still call it The Berkeley Flea Market. 

I’ve heard about mixed use retail and residential in the development plans, but the truth is, retail stores are a thing of the past. Who can afford $4,000.00 a month for a retail store? Even now I see vacant shops everywhere in Berkeley. 

Please, let’s get real. Something is going to happen to the parking lot. It is going to be developed somehow! What’s going to happen to the flea market during construction? Where is it going to go? Maybe we should start thinking about change, not intransigence.  


George Katechis is the owner of the Berkeley Musical Instrument Exchange.