2012 People Issue: Courtenay Kunnecke & Nathan Erickson
If you haven’t heard of or been to the Flea Off Market by now, you’re likely spending way too much time inside a mall and leaving large carbon footprints all over the city. The monthly urban flea market just turned 1 in November and boasted more than 100 vendors and thousands of patrons at its anniversary date. Co-founders Courtenay Kunnecke and Nathan Erickson couldn’t be more proud that their offspring has transformed into a successful, budding business. What started as a conversation among shopkeepers has become a regular destination for droves of shoppers.
“A group of us with similar ideas came together to have a market at the former Salvo location,” explains Kunnecke, 37. Salvo was a store run by an artist collective that sold high-end repurposed items. The owners of Salvo paired up with Kunnecke and Erickson, who owned Cherry Bomb at the time, and a few others to brainstorm more about a farmer/flea market in NuLu. “It was begun and continues to grow as a word-of-mouth community endeavor,” says Erickson, 41.
The group picked the NuLu neighborhood because of its central location and kitschy reputation. “There’s a lot of good energy in the East Market district,” Erickson says. “Courtenay and I both liked the idea of an urban flea market, and there are a bunch of great mom-and-pop style businesses there I like to patronize.”
“NuLu is a great location for the market because it is central to a lot of neighborhoods,” adds Kunnecke. “The patrons are as diverse as the vendors.”
Running the market has just about become a full-time job for both. Kunnecke is a mother of two who balances organizing the market and volunteering for a group called Glean Together, which collects unsold produce from farmers markets that would otherwise turn to compost and distributes it to shelters.
“It is astonishing how much labor it takes to organize each event,” Kunnecke says of the market. “Thankfully it’s a labor of love. If we aren’t organizing the actual event, we are either hitting the streets promoting or working on the future expansion and progression of the Flea Off Market.”
Kunnecke and Erickson hope to turn the market into a weekly event and are always looking for ways to improve. Right now, their focus is on finding an indoor location for the winter months, having more recycling options available, and possibly hiring a staff to help them out the day of the event.
“The Flea Off Market has a natural progression that takes place based on the response we get from Louisvillians — both vendors and patrons,” Kunnecke says. “It is this evolution that steers the direction of change for the market.”
Both co-founders relish the positive feedback they often receive. “I have had people say things along the lines of ‘This is just what Louisville needed’ and ‘This is my favorite event in the city,’ which is great to hear,” Erickson says. “I think people like it because the vendors offer a little bit of a treasure hunt, and it is just a relaxed atmosphere where you can shop and/or just hang out.”
“If we look at sales at the market as an indicator of how things are going, then the Flea Off Market is doing great,” adds Kunnecke. “Vendors are typically very pleased with their earnings and come back every month. Food and drink vendors do even better. I think many Louisvillians are pleased to have an eclectic and affordable alternative to shopping in a mall.”