After several months of anticipation, with a few more months added because of delays, the upstate edition of Smorgasburg, Brooklyn’s popular food and flea market, is ready to open this Saturday, Aug. 6, at the former Hutton Brickyards.
“We’ve got a few last-minute things to take care of, but all the infrastructure work is done, which is a relief because there was quite a lot of it,” said Jonathan Butler on Monday. Butler co-founded the food-based Smorgasburg with Eric Demby in May 2011 as an offshoot of Brooklyn Flea.
While the Kingston location will use the Smorgasburg name, its planned mix of upstate food, handmade goods and antiques vendors also involves some of what made Brooklyn Flea so popular when it opened in Fort Greene in 2008. It also sounds like a fair approximation of some of the appeal of the Hudson Valley to locals and visitors alike. And the initial weekend’s vendor list reflects that, with very little overlap between the Brooklyn-based market and the upstate iteration.
“It’s 90 percent upstate or Hudson Valley,” said Butler. “We very specifically want to make it a celebration and showcase for what’s happening upstate. For people who are weekenders, there’s no point in bringing vendors that they can get when they’re down here.”
One food vendor coming along for the ride is Ramen Burger, a celebrated fusion of Asian and American cuisine which ordinarily operates with lines that seemingly stretch from the East River all the way up the Hudson. But the vendors on the whole have a decidedly local flavor, including Raven & Boar, a family owned farm in East Chatham; the People’s Pub from Chatham; Cooper Lake Farm, a brittle-maker from Bearsville; High Falls Kitchenette; and Kingston’s own The Anchor.
The official opening weekend list (https://upstate.smorgasburg.com/vendors/) boasts 40 food-oriented vendors and 30 lifestyle vendors, selling everything from antiques to records, shoes to vintage toys.
Initially planned to open on Saturday, June 4, Smorgasburg’s upstate venture was delayed in part by engineering concerns about the long-unoccupied Hutton Brickyards property.
“It hasn’t been used in decades,” Butler said. “Probably the biggest curveball, the thing that delayed us the longest, was a couple of the old steel structures, which we’re kind of calling pavilions, which have been standing these for decades to the naked eye standing there last fall looked structurally sound. It turned out we needed various engineers to weigh in, and we needed a little bracing here and there. There’s a lot of approvals one has to go through, especially when you are doing something on the river. Everyone wants to make sure you’re doing it right. I’ve been involved in big construction projects before and I’ve yet to see one come in on time. Maybe it was naive to think this was going to. The mayor’s office and city planning office could not have been more helpful and encouraging, but there’s a certain amount of boxes that have to get checked and people who need to lay eyes on something.”
Kingston isn’t Smorgasburg’s first foray out of Brooklyn, and with a Los Angeles location opening earlier this summer, it won’t even be the furthest away. But there’s still room for optimism in Smorgasburg’s steady expansion plan: When it’s not winter, they’re still open in Williamsburg every Saturday. Last summer, Smorgasburg moved to Prospect Park in Brooklyn on Sundays, and during the winter they operate on the weekends alongside Brooklyn Flea at Industry City.
But there are also smaller-scale Smorgasburg locations in the city, including a daily market at South Street Seaport, and an event-based location at Central Park SummerStage. Berg’n, a beer hall and artisanal food market in Crown Heights, is also owned by Butler and Demby.
Hutton Brickyards is currently owned by MWest Holdings, LLC, a real estate investment and property management company based in Sherman Oaks, California. In a press release earlier this year, MWest President Karl Slovin said everyone involved was committed to honoring the integrity of the property while making it viable for the future.
“We are so excited and proud to be the stewards of such an important property and to have a chance to use it to celebrate the region’s agricultural roots and burgeoning food scene,” said MWest President Karl Slovin. “Our goal is to carefully bring the Hutton Brickyards back to life with proven taste makers who love the history and urban archaeology of the site as much as we do. This is the first step in what we hope will be a long-term partnership with the community to make this site a rich cultural destination of choice for locals and tourists alike.”
The delayed opening of Upstate Smorgasburg may have made it difficult for initial vendors to stick with the plan, but it may have also made it possible for others to come on board. And according to Butler, it may take some time before the market has a true sense of familiarity.
“It’s the same size and scale that we were originally anticipating, but even with the original start date we were sort of starting mid-season,” Butler said. “I think we’re going to find more turnover and experimentation [than in Brooklyn] in this three-month run. Which is good. You never know until you try something if it’s going to be good. And hopefully a bunch of people try it this fall and we see who does well, and we will probably emerge with more of a stable lineup in the spring. But the first year of Smorgasburg in Brooklyn there was tons of turnover. First year (in Brooklyn) we had a greenmarket in the middle of Smorgasburg, and it turned out no one wanted to buy their weekly supply of vegetables. They wanted to eat exotic food.”
Butler said that even with all the final details going into making the opening market and the inaugural three-month run a success, there’s still time to wonder how it’ll all go.
“Hopefully it’s going to go well,” he said. You never really know until you open up the gates. It’s hard to know quite what to hope for. I’ve actually been worrying about too few and too many people. They both have their problems.”
But how will Smorgasburg measure its success? Butler said it will likely be decided by how well the vendors fare.
“If not enough people come, it won’t be a success,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not up to us. Enough people have to come to support a critical mass of vendors or you don’t have a market. We aren’t looking to make any money off this three month run. The important thing is that it’s good, the vendors do well, and people come. You build that foundation and there’s plenty of time to grow it as a business. We just hope people come out, but there’s no way to know until you do it.”
Smorgasburg will open at the Hutton Brickyards at 100 North Street in Kingston on Saturday, Aug. 6, and will run every Saturday through the end of October. Operating hours are planned for 11 a.m. through 6 p.m.