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San José’s Flea Market, La Pulga, Has New Vendor Group Voicing Its Future

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Large spools of fabric in various multicolor and floral patterns are piled on top of each other inside an outdoor vendor stall that sells at a local flea market. Garments are seen hanging in the background.
A fabric stall at San José's Berryessa Flea Market on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. On May 17, 2023, a vendor group attended a public meeting to discuss the eventual closure of the market and advise the city on how to decide what to do with the hundreds of small businesses that stand to be displaced. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Discussions about the future of San José’s Berryessa Flea Market are quietly underway. A group of vendors advising the city about the path ahead for the legendary bazaar began meeting this month ahead of what feels like a perennially impending closure.

The Flea Market Advisory Group was created by the San José City Council in 2021, when the city approved an update to a rezoning plan that will eliminate most of the 60-acre market known as La Pulga to make way for housing and retail near the Berryessa/North San José BART station. The group is charged with advising the city on how best to aid the hundreds of small businesses that will be displaced by the development.

In the months ahead, the group is expected to address thorny issues such as how to divide a pool of financial compensation for vendors, and how to design the 5 acres of the current lot that will remain in the new project.


At the task force’s first meeting, held on May 17 at the Berryessa Community Center, the new vendor leaders spoke before a room of roughly 50 people. They heard from stand owners who are facing the immediate challenges of rising costs of parking and declining sales. Then there’s the open question of when exactly the market will close — and divided views on where vendors should go when it does.

“This is the first time that our voice is represented,” said advisory group member Alma Jacobo, after the first meeting. “It’s a victory and it’s a good way to move forward with our opinion.”

A crowd of people, men and women, are sitting at tables listening intently to a speaker off camera. They each wear name tags that read, "Roberto," "Alma," and "Erica." Many folks are seated in rows behind them inside this community meeting space.
From left, Roberto Gonzalez, Alma Jacobo and Erika Barajas listen during a public meeting about the closure of La Pulga, the Berryessa Flea Market in San José. Gonzalez, Jacobo and Barajas are part of the city’s advisory group. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

Jacobo’s family has operated an embroidery and silk screen business at the flea market for 35 years, printing shirts and uniforms for generations of San José small businesses. She said the advisory group recommendations should be informed by a thorough survey of vendors’ future plans. Some stand owners may decide to retire when the market closes, but others like Jacobo rely heavily on income from sales at the flea market.

“I’m hoping that we find another spot where the culture and the main roots of the flea market are still intact,” she said.

Jacobo and 10 other advisory group members are tasked with counseling the city on how to spend a $7.5 million “vendor transition fund.” The flea market’s owners will pay $5 million, with a $2.5 million down payment coming from the city. The group will also provide input on the design of a 5-acre market that will house vendors in the new development, and keep vendors abreast of the market’s future plans.

That planning has been complicated by the market’s uncertain end date. The flea market’s slow demise was set in motion by a 2007 vote of the San José City Council to rezone the parcel along Berryessa Road for a residential development plan proposed by the Bumb family, who owns the market. City leaders have argued the site’s transformation is necessary to advance the creation of dense housing near transit stops.

A man's face is illuminated by outdoor lighting shining indoors as he sits among a large crowd listening to a speaker speak off camera. He has gray hair and a gray beard.
Jimmy Hernandez listens during a public meeting about the closure of the Berryessa Flea Market in San José, California. Hernandez, a longtime music and artwork vendor, is serving on the city’s advisory board. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

Then, in 2021, the flea market owners returned to the council with a plan to increase the residential density at the site and add millions of square feet of potential commercial space. Vendors seized the opportunity to organize and leveraged the final vote into financial support, the 5-acre market and the creation of the advisory group.

The deal stipulated that the market could close as soon as July 2024, with one-year eviction notices going to vendors the year prior. But in a recent filing with the city, the Bumb family disclosed that they would not issue closure notifications to vendors before Oct. 1, 2023 — meaning the earliest the flea market could close is Oct. 1, 2024.

“We have no intention of closing right now,” said Patrick DeTar, a representative of the Bumb family, and the only non-vendor in the advisory group.

Adding to the uncertainty is the region’s diminished commercial real estate market, which could push development — and the eventual eviction notices — years into the future.

“The big challenge is this feeling that at any time it could be one year away, and that creates a sense of urgency that may not be needed, but certainly is understandable,” said San José City Councilmember David Cohen, whose district includes the flea market site.

Cohen said the advisory committee will have to balance a desire for a deliberative process — one that weighs the varied concerns of the vendor community — with the time-sensitive need to have a plan ready to go when the Bumb family begins issuing eviction notices.

Cohen added that he was excited to be “putting the future of the flea market in the hands of the vendors.” But some attendees at the meeting voiced a desire for the city to do more to ease the transition for vendors. Top of mind was the need for city staff to help disseminate information, because members of the advisory group said they are often too busy at their own stands to canvass the market and provide vendors updates about the task force’s work.

Two men are standing about six feet apart from each other in a crowded room with a seated audience. They attend a city meeting and are speaking to each other.
Alex Ortega addresses San José city workers. Ortega’s family has sold fruit cups and agua fresca at the flea market for decades. He said he thinks the city should follow through on its promises to find a new location. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

Alex Ortega, whose family has sold fruit cups and agua fresca for decades, said the city should go further, and follow through on promises to find a new location that can replicate the market’s current size. Ortega said the planned 5-acre market will lose the cross-pollination that occurs when customers seeking a wide variety of goods come to the sprawling lot.

For years, city leaders — including Mayor Matt Mahan and his predecessor, Sam Liccardo — have vowed to hunt for a parcel that could house a new flea market. The names of possible options have remained stagnant, and include the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, Lake Cunningham Park and the former Singleton landfill. But little progress has been made in securing a large piece of property for a future market.

Ortega said the vendors should use the transition fund to find their own plot of land, even if that means leaving the Bay Area.

“If the city of San José can’t provide it for all of us, no vendor should be left behind,” Ortega said. “And if they can’t, then we need to find a home that’s going to accept us, a city that’s going to accept us, a county that’s going to accept us.”


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