Amy Abrams has always had a thing for markets, particularly the ones filled with fabulous finds and artisanal crafts.
In fact, the co-founder of Artists & Fleas, which are four different marketplaces situated in New York and Los Angeles, hosting local artists’ and designers’ wares, as well as vintage items and artisanal food, was 16 and on a six-week teen tour in Israel when she had one of her first market experiences, at the weekly Beersheva shuk.
Nearly 30 years later, Abrams and her husband, Ronen Glimer, recently opened their newest Artists & Fleas space, this one in SoHo. It follows their weekly weekend location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the Chelsea location in Manhattan that opened seven years ago, and a twice-monthly outdoor market in Los Angeles’s Venice neighborhood. There’s also a small online shop and lots of press, including a recent review in Vogue.
Each location of Artists & Fleas hosts a carefully curated selection of local merchants with unique designs, crafts and art. The merchants are often originally from other places, bringing that original flavor from their home countries.
The Israel influence has loomed large for Abrams and Glimer, who name Jaffa and its local flea market, a lodestone of antiques, crafts and vintage finds, as one of their favorite hunting spots.
“We’ve been inspired by travels and markets around the world,” said Abrams. “Israel has been one of the best places, with all the cultures that have intersected and passed through.”
Glimer’s father is Israeli, and his grandfather was an antique dealer in Tel Aviv, while his own father is an art dealer.
“For him, it’s the family business,” said Abrams of the pair’s penchant for finding treasures. “It’s the modern interpretation of his father’s history of finding treasures and wanting to share them.”
For the Artists & Fleas founders, their frequent visits to Israel include many stops in Israel’s markets, including the twice-weekly Nahalat Binyamin crafts fair in Tel Aviv, and the annual summer crafts fair, Hutzot Hayotzer, held at the end of August in Jerusalem’s Sultan’s Pool.
“All of these places informed us when we started this business,” she said. “I still have pieces of jewelry I bought there, and Israel is to me, an entire country of artisans. Many special things I’ve bought I’ve held on to, and they become memorable, like family heirlooms.”
Abrams said there’s a very strong Israeli component to what they do at Artists & Fleas.
It was back in 2003 that she and Glimer found a Williamsburg warehouse and figured they would try and make their idea work.
“The entrepreneurial spirit is very Israeli,” she said. “If you dream it, you’ll make it happen. As an Israeli, you can pick up on that. But that’s a little foreign to people here.”
The couple also travels frequently with their two daughters, Ruby, 11 and Noa, who is nine. They take one major trip a year with the girls, and another one on their own.
They’ve found that traveling with kids offers different kinds of encounters, as people engage differently with children. Abrams said she also appreciates how travel demonstrates the size of the world to her kids, and how similar and different places can be from their own hometown.
And of course, their children have become master packers who have learned how to travel light in order to buy things along the way.
“Ronen and I love to travel and we’re reenergized when we do, it refuels our souls,” said Abrams. “We really like to go to places where you can find an artists’ community and that’s always in the markets. It informs what we do and want to keep on doing.”