The stands have been packed and moved for good, and though the ground was clear of recent snowfall, there was no one except a man on a bicycle who circled the lot for nothing except to have something to do.
The vendors that called the flea market home for over 25 years were forced to leave their space – and for many, their livelihood behind – as Malaysian company Genting broke ground in October to start construction of the new racino gambling complex at Aqueduct, complete with over 4,000 Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs).
“They are really poor families and they have nowhere to go to buy clothing for $2 or $3, and it’s sad because these people don’t have anything,” said vendor Melissa Steadman. Her family has been selling used clothing at the flea market for over 10 years and is now unsure about what will happen next.
Resorts World New York, the company owned by Genting that's overseeing the construction, released a statement in November that the open flea market does not fit into the plans to build a world-class entertainment venue that tourists and locals alike could enjoy. The open-air market would be in harm's way, the company aruged, raising safety concerns as construction goes on. Vendors were told that this holiday season would be their last at Aqueduct.
Now the 1,000-plus vendors wait to be relocated and local politicians are still working on finding a brand new space for them.
“While the State Lottery has final say about onsite retail at the site, we continue to be concerned about the vendors and their future,” said Borough President Helen Marshall in a statement.
Citi Field and Flushing-Meadows Park are spaces currently being looked at for the vendors, but there is no definitive word yet on whether either space will be made available for the purposes of a flea market.
“For the past 10 days, given the holiday and the new year, not much ground was covered,” State Senator Joseph Addabbo said regarding finding a new space for vendors. “We need to look at what is an appropriate area not only for the amount of vendors, but also for the amount of customers.”
Addabbo said he wants the vendors to remain in Queens, but one challenge has been that there is not a single spokesperson for the vendors to see what the consensus is among them, along with the fact that the borough “is not blessed with a lot of vacant land.”