The Legend of the Niles Antique Faire and Flea Market
Once upon a time (probably the 60ís) in a village called Niles, a tradition arose of antiques and flea markets. Some say it began when Betty Hanna and Shirley Filgate dragged some antiques outdoors for sale. Some say it was the brainchild of Janet Pasagno, Harry Avila, and Al Lopez and his wife, Vicky. However it began, the annual Niles Antique Faire and Flea Market has been a fond, funky event for 50 years. This year, Keith Elrod and the Niles Main Street Assn. were presented with a proclamation on the 50th Anniversary of the Niles Antique Faire and Flea Market.
In the early days of the faire, the antiques at that time were judged entries. Vendors were required to submit an application and have their antiques judged before selling them at the faire. Along with antiques were food booths and beer sellers.
The faire began with a Sunday morning pancake breakfast at the Merchantsí Association rail car. The residents in the back streets of old town Niles took advantage of the shoppers in town to display their own ìwaresî at yard sales. In the 1960ís, the Merchantsí Association joined the faire and assumed operating it with the help of Boys Scouts who ran the parking lots on Mission and other hired personnel to man the entrances to town.
Although the beer booths seemed like a good idea at the time, they tended to encourage scandalous hooliganism, and in the end, they were 86íd from the faire. When Bob Wasserman was police chief, he claimed theyíd fill the paddy wagon with drunks from the faire and there were so many, and they were so drunk that when they got to the police station and opened the doors, they all fell out into a heap on the parking lot.
In 1972, Loren English took over the reins of the faire and captained the event during its prime for about 9 years. At its peak, the Antique Faire sponsored about 300 booths, stretching from the corner of Sullivanís Underpass to the corner of J Street, as well as the first blocks of the side streets and the Niles Blvd parking lot. Vendors from around the Bay Area were drawn to the festivities, parking their RVs and moving trucks across Mission Blvd and down Mowry until they could set up their booths on Saturday night. Many Niles residents were involved in helping the faire set up. Bruce Cates would help clear Niles Blvd by rousting bar patrons early so the vendors could start setting up booths. Steve Cho regularly manned the front gate to let in the vendors, and Al Cunha was a familiar face during the midnight setups.
Rumor has it that somewhere lurks a picture taken from the top of the Ellsworth building, looking down on the faire crowded with 100.000 people.
Not bad for a little town.
Niles neighbors contributed a large portion of chaos to the event by holding yard sales that started on Saturday morning and rolled into Saturday night parties that rolled into Sunday morning yard sales and shopping. One of these parties was known as the ìPole Dropping Partyî because as the Saturday night party wrapped up, the partiers could hear the vendors starting to set up shop. (Sadly, the traditional pole sound faded with the adoption of the EZ pop-up canopies.) Serious antiqueíers and flea market shoppers would start browsing the town with flashlights starting at 4 a.m. to find the best bargainsósomething that often startled new residents to the Old Town.
Itís a grand way to celebrate the end of summer! Let the chaos begin!!!
Editor’s note: This article was put together from lore and hearsay, and we claim no responsibility for errors of fact or libelous mudslinging. As a matter of fact, we would love to have your input regarding the faire and flea market. We would like to expand this little blog to a full-blown, as-best-as-we-remember-it history of this wild event. Please send me a note so we can add to this story for next year, and the years after!