Closed for business: Police crack down on illegal flea market

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Police are finally responding to long-standing complaints about an illegal flea market that leaves a block of Ocean Avenue looking like a dump every weekend.

Grateful Sheepshead Bay residents say officers from the 61st Precinct rousted the junk merchants for the second Saturday in a row on June 14.

“They came early and got everyone out with no problem,” said Bill Iannotti, who lives around the corner on E. 21st Street and has complained repeatedly to the city about the problem.

For years, a slew of illegal street seters would descend every Saturday scatter their wares all over the sidewalk in front of the Bainbridge Adult Health Care Center on the east side of Ocean Avenue between Voorhies Avenue and Shore Parkway. The vendors have no permit and leave a disgusting — and dangerous — mess, locals say.

“There’s feces, there’s bug-infested mattresses and clothes, there’s so much garbage,” said Susan Methal, a director at the center.

The Center put up “no trespassing” signs and erected a wrought-iron fence at its own expense to keep the messy merchants from trashing its driveway, but that only sent toilet-seeking troublemakers to a nearby church.

“It’s embarrassing — having a service and having folks walk in and out to use the restroom,” said Rev. Sharon Petgrave-Cundy, pastor of the The United Methodist Church of Sheepshead Bay, which is next door to the adult center.

The church also holds a flea market on Saturdays, but the itinerant peddlers undercut the church’s prices and steal business from its flagship fund-raiser, said church sextant Jimmy Smith.

Locals all said they’ve lobbied the 61st Precinct to remedy the situation for half a decade, but results have been mixed — police would come one week but never follow up, so the illegal market would just return.

Many started feeling like the trashy traders were just a fact of life, but at the urging of Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D–Sheepshead Bay), the police quickly agreed to start coming by to break up the market on a weekly basis until the illegal vendors get the message and stop showing up. This has finally given the long-suffering neighbors a glimmer of hope.

“I had thrown up my hands and given up until I met Councilman Deutsch,” Iannotti said. “It’s amazing what he got done in a week.”

Now they are just hoping for follow-though from New York’s Finest.

Ianotti is optimistic the situation is turning around, he said.

“It’s going to be a few more weeks before these guys clear out for good, but if the police show up this weekend, I think it will be a turning point.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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