Last Saturday, I went to the PROM. Exciting, right? Consider this article your engraved invitation.

Didn’t like your high school prom? Maybe you’ll like this one—you don’t need a date, a corsage, a limo, or a fancy outfit. All you need is a facemask, some pocket money, and a desire to support your community.

 

Okay, enough of the shtick. You already know that we’re talking about a flea market.

 

In my opinion, which I’m sure is shared by all the other participants and attendees of the Pandemically Responsible Outdoor Market, the all-caps PROM is way better than a hormone-and-spiked-punch-fest at your local school gymnasium.

 

Located in Medford on a sunny lawn at River’s Edge, the Pandemically Responsible Outdoor Market (PROM) is probably the best way to shop small and support independent sellers since the city’s established fleas closed their operations at the onset of COVID.

Racks of vintage clothing supplied by Great Eastern Trading Co. and G Spot Vintage

Sellers are posted up a generous 20+ feet away from each other, PPE is offered onsite, masks are required, and walking paths are wide, but safety isn’t the only reason that the PROM shines in comparison to other markets in the recent past: A local DJ spins disco, soul, and funk. A nearby BBQ joint, The Porch, slings marinated and smoked (and sometimes vegan!) goodies for hungry sellers and shoppers. And, perhaps best of all, the whole project is the brainchild of local celebrity, community leader, and wearer of many (literal) hats, Nephtaliem McCrary.

 

Most know Neph by his ownership of Great Eastern Trading Co. in Central Square, a long-storied vintage boutique stocked with color, camp, and more Hawaiian shirts than I’ve ever seen in my life (if that’s your jam, look for them in the summer.) Neph can also be spotted at one of his numerous singing gigs around New England, or simply by his outlandish and impeccable fashion sense.

Nephtaliem McCrary, the PROM king

Last Saturday, I found him at the PROM, bouncing from table to table, looking like a ‘70s A&R guy mixed with a high-rollin’ gambler from the 1940s. With chatter and good vibes swirling around him, he could barely contain his excitement behind his facemask.

 

“We had some wind this morning,” he said. “So there were a few cancellations. Usually we have tables all over there—” he motioned to his left, where another swath of green lawn sat unoccupied, “but they’ll most likely be back next week. I’m also in the process of finding new people all the time.”

 

Neph’s dream, to fill the lawn (to a pandemically responsible extent) with independent sellers, carries an infectious kind of positivity. With so many established brick-and-mortars shutting their doors for good, and it still being much too early to reintroduce cramped, sweaty city markets, it felt like there was little hope for small scale sellers. What a bleak future we’d face—Amazons and Targets as far as the eye could see—should nobody take the initiative. Luckily, people have.

The sellers who conquered the wind that afternoon—independent designers, vintage sellers, vinyl collectors, jewelry makers, skincare alchemists, candlemakers—were in no worse spirits for the weather, which by 2pm had turned balmy and warm.

 

Maybe it was just me, but something about the PROM was so reassuring, so celebratory, that being there on the grass made me want to laugh at all the times in quarantine where I fretted that things like outdoor markets were figments of the past. With the sun glinting off racks of vintage clothes and the scent of hand-dipped candles in the air, I realized I must have been a bit foolish to think that the virus could so easily quash community spirit. It just took the PROM to remind me that there are places where one can be supported, supportive, and, most importantly, safe, in a post-lockdown world. I’d like to see a high school prom that could do that.

 

After my visit to the PROM, Neph was kind enough to answer some follow-up questions about the PROM’s origins, its goals, and its specific safety measures:

 

BOSTON HASSLE: did you conceive of an outdoor market concept before COVID, or did COVID give you the idea for this venture?

 

NEPH McCRARY: The idea for an outdoor market was born of two things. 1st, as a Central Sq Cambridge business, I was becoming very frustrated with the Central Flea of years past. New England Open Markets and Central Sq Business Association began to raise the sign up fee and also began charging an admission fee for the people of the community. Chris Masci and Mike Monestime seemed to not be taking into consideration the financial strain on my fellow small business owners and neighbors in the community to vend or attend what should be a free public community event.

2nd, I had developed a working relationship and friendship with Jonathan Post,  the owner of The Porch  Southern Fare & Juke Joint in Medford as a performer. In one conversation in which he inquired about my store Great Eastern Trading Co, he kindly and generously offered to host a small outdoor vintage market on the patio and sidewalk in front of and alongside The Porch when the weather was warmer the following spring. As we know,  this spring was not what any of us expected and when everything began to reopen, Jonathan obviously needed to use his patio and every bit of outdoor space around the restaurant for outdoor dining. He graciously approached the owner of the adjacent property at Rivers Edge with vast sections of lush green grass to allow us to activate that area to host what has now become The PROM (Pandemically Responsible Outdoor Market).

 

NM: I reached out to all the vintage vendors and friends that I’ve met along the way 1st, and started small, with a vested interest in businesses owned by people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. The 1st couple of weeks were met with skepticism in regards to safety and functionality but with the help of my fellow small business owners and colleagues, it quickly came to fruition.

 

BH: And what makes an outdoor market pandemically responsible?

NM: All of the vendors and their set-ups are positioned at least 20-30 feet apart from one another. Mask wearing is mandatory for vendors and people attending. Hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves are available upon request.

 

BH: Who are some of your favorite items you’ve found so far at the market? What kind of oddities can one expect to find?

 

NM: All of the independent small business owners who vend at PROM are special. The collection of Vintage Clothing sellers is remarkable alone. My friend Luciana who owns a company called Ankharabyluciana designs and makes incredible home decor full of color, culture and made with quality. There are so many…

 

The Pandemically Responsible Outdoor Market is open on Saturdays from 12-6pm, from now until the end of the month. Find it outside The Porch Southern Fare and Juke Joint (200 Rivers Edge Dr) at River’s Edge in Medford. The property is a short walk from Wellington Station on the Orange Line. Parking is free and onsite for those arriving by car.

 

Masks available on request; visitors and sellers must wear a facemask in order to participate in the PROM.

 

Featured photo © Pandemically Responsible Outdoor Market; all other photos © Sophie Yarin

 

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