Crowds walked through the gymnasium-turned-market as the $1 donations were accepted at the door. Using two actual turntables, a DJ played old western music with no laptop in sight. Everyone from college students to entire families looked around and browsed.
This was the scene at the Black Market, hosted Sunday by Boston Hassle and Ignore Rock’n’Roll Heroes at the Cambridge Community Center. The Black Market is a roughly bi-annual flea market designed for artists and other vendors to sell everything from zines to custom-made clothes. This time, over 90 vendors set up shop.
What made the event unique is that it was as much about forming and maintaining community as it was about selling goods. Filing through the crowded marketplace, one couldn’t help but notice how many people just stood there and talked to the vendors, with everyone acting as if they were old friends.
After a conversation, the prospective customer might have bought something, or maybe not. It didn’t matter, though, because when that person walked away, the vendor would just smile and wave regardless.
“Even if people just walk by and look, it’s good to get your art out there,” said Sean Patrick Watroba, 27, an artist-vendor from Brighton.
Such a community is difficult to come by, even in a youthful and urban area like Boston. Olivia Portegello, the 21-year-old creator of Flatline Zines, previously sold her handiwork at the Boston Zine Fest and traveled as far as New Jersey for another similar festival, but emphasized the rarity of the Black Market.
“You really have to look for it if you want to find it, but it’s definitely there,” said Portegello, a Jamaica Plain resident and a senior at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.
With such a wide variety of vendors, it was evident that many had different reasons for being there. The unemployed Watroba is supporting himself through his art. Portegello, however, is still uncertain as to whether her zines will progress into a career or become a side project as she moves forward in life.
For Roman Pellegrino, the apparel he sold Sunday is his future. An 18-year-old School of Fashion Design student from Boxford, Massachusetts, Pellegrino is in the works of making his brand, Morte Apparel, a full-time business.
“I started when I was 16 [by] making these for my friends,” he said. But Morte has progressed to something larger than that, and the Black Market is part of that progression.
While some vendors claimed to be making careers for themselves, others found purpose in supporting larger-scale causes.
Matt Coughlin and Jeff McHale, both seniors at Emerson College, sold “Bern One” shirts at the market with the promise of donating 100 percent of the proceeds to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.
“[The Bern One brand was created by] personally finding ways to contribute as poor college students,” McHale said. Coughlin also runs Fine or Famous, his personal brand from which he sold soft-glassed work, photos and paintings.
An artisan market such as the Black Market was a substantial market base for liberal causes such as the Sanders campaign. But beyond that categorization, it was difficult to generalize the massive amount of people, art and whatever else came through the doors of the community center that day.
As a perfect marketplace for independent projects, the Black Market promoted a sort of individuality. Even if there were 10 or 20 people selling shirts, each brand was distinct from the others.
Yes, mostly young, college-aged people attended the Black Market, but it was not exclusively their demographic. Each person, college student or not, came with an individual appreciation for each product that made the Black Market irresistible for so many.
“It’s one of the things that a friend tells you about, and maybe you just decide to check it out,” said Brennan McMullen, a sophomore in Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. “But once you’re here, you find the most original art you’ve ever seen, all in one place.”