Blitzkrieg shop DIY spirit drives city’s inaugural punk rock flea market
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This isn’t going to be your grandparents’ flea market.
While participants at large, urban markets are typically chosen based on the number of Instagram followers they boast, or how professional-looking their booth is, organizer Em Curry took a different approach, while poring over applications for the inaugural Winnipeg Punk Rock Flea Market, which runs this Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Valour Community Centre’s Orioles site, 448 Burnell St.
“There are tons of makers in the city doing amazing things, except they tend to get shut out of certain sales because they don’t have a big footprint on social media, or they don’t have some super-crazy setup,” Curry says, noting unaffiliated punk rock flea markets have been a “thing” in North American cities such as Edmonton, Montreal, Mexico City and Nashville for years.
“So if I was saying I wanted to be inclusive by welcoming people who haven’t been given an opportunity to show what they can do, I felt I had to reduce the amount of barriers they faced, to be considered.”
To that end, Curry came up with an informal, getting-to-know-you questionnaire that was less interested in how many Facebook friends a person had, than what their oldest piece of clothing is. Or which punk rock song best describes them?
“Some people got back to me, saying they were definitely interested, only they didn’t think of themselves as punk rockers,” says Curry, who, in answer to those two queries, possesses a 30-year-old T-shirt bearing the name of Winnipeg band the Umpires and adores Iggy Pop’s The Passenger.
“I assured them that wouldn’t matter because to me, punk isn’t just about music. It’s about a DIY ethic, it’s about people creating things that may not fit into a so-called mould and it’s about community. And if you come to the market this weekend, that’s exactly what you’re going to encounter.”
Curry, who uses the pronouns they/them, grew up in East St. Paul. Curry was “obsessed” with music from the 1950s and ’60s in grades 5 and 6, but that all changed when Nevermind, by Nirvana, hit store shelves in 1991.
“I was 13 at the time, I was a bit of an outcast and was like, ‘OK, this is my thing,’” Curry says, seated in a St. Boniface coffee shop, dressed in sneakers, jeans and a long-sleeve Repo Man T-shirt.
The following summer, one of Curry’s cousins from Vancouver came to visit. He was a diehard punk rocker who, in addition to a wardrobe comprised primarily of plaid pants and combat boots, also had an extensive record collection. Before leaving B.C., he had transferred dozens of tracks onto cassette, as a gift for his younger relative.
“He handed me this tape with songs by Black Flag, Circle Jerks, NoMeansNo and Fear and said, ‘You need to hear these bands.’ He couldn’t have been more right.”
Skip ahead to 2016: married with two children, Curry was living in Baltimore with their American-born husband Jimi, a member of the U.S. military. One morning they spotted a poster advertising an upcoming punk rock flea market in Trenton, N.J. Neither had a clue what such an event entailed, but they hopped in the car that weekend, nonetheless, and drove two hours to see what it was all about.
“The second we stepped inside the venue, this huge building about the size of the main terminal at The Forks, we were like, ‘Holy s—t,’” Curry says.
“There were close to 400 vendors… a mishmash of everything from people cleaning out their record collections to handmade soap to jewelry to clothes. I bought a few things, including a hand-cut leather bracelet, and kept telling Jimi on the way home, ‘That was so fricking great.’”
They enjoyed their time in Baltimore but after Jimi, who is originally from Texas, left the military in 2020, they decided to pack their bags and move to Canada, to be closer to Curry’s parents.
Owing to pandemic-related restrictions, there wasn’t much to see or do when they arrived in Winnipeg, that fall. By March 2021, things had largely returned to normal, and Curry began attending craft shows and pop-up sales, in an effort to “figure out where the cool stuff was.”
“I was encountering all these great products made by very talented people, but little of it was my jam,” Curry says. “Then I hit one show with vendors whose stuff was more to my liking, but I could tell they weren’t going to sell much, because the people shopping didn’t seem to be their target audience.
“That’s when I started thinking about staging a punk rock flea market of my own.”
Curry started putting out feelers on social media in the summer of 2021, asking whether Winnipeggers would be interested in a sale carrying the tagline, “shop local, shop weird.”
Buoyed by the response, Curry established an Instagram page in September 2022, and began accepting applications a few weeks later. Then came the tough part: whittling 150 hopefuls down to 40, to fit the chosen venue.
“Let’s just say tears were shed,” Curry says.
Eliana Sorensen, owner of It Makes Scents Oils, was pleased as punch to learn she was among those who made the cut.
Although she already had a fairly strong following for her line of bath and body products, which she has been selling since 2018, she felt Curry’s event suited her personality and, at times, dark sense of humour perfectly. (Exhibit A: fragrance bath bombs made to resemble — Zap! You’re dead! — plug-in toasters.)
“I’m so excited because not only is it the first of its kind in the city, but, like Em said, there are going to be a lot of makers there whose stuff doesn’t fit the pattern of more standard markets,” Sorensen says.
“I’ve always tried to create items that are diverse and unique, but for this particular sale, I’ll be bringing along a few things that fall under the category of lovely, but perfectly inappropriate.” (Perhaps she means an anatomically-correct bar of soap made to look like a human heart, arteries, valves and all.)
Sorensen laughs, mentioning she’s already asked Curry if she’ll be able to set up early on Sunday, so she’ll have extra time to peruse the other vendors’ wares.
“You never want to leave your spot during a sale, but you definitely want to take a peek at what else is for sale. Heck, I might end up spending more than I make.”
In addition to It Makes Scents Oils, other sellers Curry recommends keeping an eye out for are Pushing Up Daisies, which combines taxidermy with silversmithing to create one-of-a-kind home decor and jewelry, Rattle Rebel Clothing, which specializes in up-cycled fashion items for kids, such as Sex Pistols rompers and Rage Against the Machine hoodies, and Beaded Gums Murphy, which turns out hand-beaded earrings made to resemble, among other things, band logos, creepy crawlies and (our favourite) bloodied knives.
As well, if you need to replace your old Clash, Cramps and Buzzcocks albums, there will be a large selection of wax available, at a table run by Beat Club Vinyl.
Curry’s ultimate goal is to turn the Winnipeg Punk Rock Flea Market into a semi-annual event, that will only get bigger and better. Curry has already heard from people who didn’t become aware of the goings-on until after the application deadline, and who can’t wait to try their luck, next time around.
“I love Winnipeg, and I want Winnipeg to succeed,” Curry says. “I feel that people who live here get down on themselves easily, but after spending a long time away in the States, I can say without reservation that we are way cooler here than we think. And I’m hoping the flea market adds to that cool factor, going forward.”
Tickets to the Winnipeg Punk Rock Flea Market are available online or at the door. Admission is $5 each, free for children 12 and under. For more information, go to winnipegpunkrockfleamarket.com
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Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.