Jannah Handy and Kiyanna Stewart began going to thrift stores together in 2014 while both were at Rutgers University. “Kiyanna grew up thrifting. So when we started dating, it’s something I’d do to spend time with her,” says Handy. Their pastime had them combing regional estate sales and flea markets, then selling what they found on Etsy; later, they created a website. “We realized that older white men run this industry. The artifacts we’d see in these places did not represent us or our history,” says Stewart. At first, they grappled with how much of what they took home should be black. “We’d find some cool industrial pieces and a collection of Jet magazines, and we’d put both up for sale,” Stewart says. “Eventually, we made a decision to focus on black ephemera.” The choice stemmed from a desire to both normalize black representation in antiques stores and change the value of black antiquities. “I’ve seen boxes of black objects in the dumpster at auction houses,” says Handy. A couple of months ago, the pair opened Blk Mkt, a 900-square-foot store (465 Marcus Garvey Blvd.) in Bed-Stuy bursting with trinkets and art and other vintage pieces you won’t find anywhere else — from an original FBI wanted poster for Angela Davis to ’70s Afro picks (which Handy was surprised to find, she says, at an antiques store “in a very white town in South Jersey”). The physical space, they say, has allowed a whole new type of customer to engage with their wares. “Last week, I was in the shop, and these two 10-year-old black girls came in. If we’d just had some mid-century couches in the window, they probably would have kept walking.”
Highlights From a Recent Visit
“We have a couple hundred issues in the store. Folks grew up with Jet in their household — reading them or just seeing them on their coffee tables or in their bathrooms.” —Kiyanna Stewart
Assata Shakur pin, $75
“This is an original pin from the 1970s that depicts a former member of the Black Liberation Army. It’s rare to come across original pieces with Shakur on them, so whenever we do find one, we snatch it right up.” —K.S.
Angela Davis pin, $35
“They’re the same ones that folks would get when they made a contribution to her bail fund or sent her a letter — they’d either get a pin or a sticker back that said I GAVE TO FREE ANGELA or FREE ANGELA on it. The Angela Davis ephemera goes really fast.” —Jannah Handy
“This is a first edition, published in 1907. It has an incredible heft and is so well constructed. I love Dunbar; one of his acts of resistance was writing white protagonists. At the time, people thought that was uppity—how could a black person write about a white person’s story?” —J.H.
“A lot of folks grimace when they see these, but in a fun way, I guess. Most everyone who comes in — older adults, kids — can connect about getting burned on their ears.” —J.H.
“It’s so cool to get to see what was happening in the Oakland or the Chicago chapter — whatever demonstration was happening for bail fund-raising or for legal fees. This was their community newspaper, so you get it all. We have a few that are signed by Emory Douglas, who was the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party.” —K.S.
“This poster is stunning. And it’s an original, from the ’60s. I love how it manages to invoke all of these different histories, which still exist for New Yorkers today: food insecurity, gentrification, and access to affordable public transportation.” —J.H.
“This is from the ’70s; it’s an original lithograph in its original frame. It’s a special piece because Ernie is one of those artists you can find in so many black homes. Even if people don’t know exactly what it is or who it’s by, you can tell they recognize it when they see it — it looks familiar because it’s so quintessentially black and such a staple of black interior spaces.” —K.S.
Fulani wedding blankets, $300
“They’re made by the Fulani people in Mali out of strips of woven fabric dyed with vegetable pigments.” —K.S.
“They are traditionally the first gift that a bride and groom receive — their first piece of jointly owned property. They’re very ornate and can be used as a rug, thrown over beds, put on the walls.” —J.H.
Blk Mkt by the Numbers
Of the clients, 75 percent are female identified; 25 percent are male identified. “Black women have held us down from the very beginning,” says Stewart.
The 900-square-foot space was first a general store, then a dry cleaner.
The owners grew up 600 feet from each other in Prospect–Lefferts Gardens, which they didn’t realize until they met as adults.
The rarest item they’ve found was a first edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God. They sold it for $7,000.
*A version of this article appears in the February 17, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
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