Each year, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS presents the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, where theatrical memorabilia from Broadway and Off-Broadway shows—as well as treasures from theatre owners and producing organizations, unions, guilds, marketing groups, ticket agencies, concessionaires, and fan clubs—line West 44th and West 45th Streets.
The day offers countless priceless opportunities for theatre lovers to find rare trinkets and connect with the community, and all proceeds benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS—the Tony-winning nonprofit. But if you've never been, the bustling crowds and stacked merchandise tables can be overwhelming.
Here's everything you need to know ahead of this year's Broadway Flea Market, which will be held in the heart of New York City’s theatre district October 1 from 10 AM–7 PM.
1. Make a game plan ahead of time.
In the days leading up to the Broadway Flea Market, think about what kinds of things you'd like to keep an eye out for, and make a priority list of them. Are you hoping to find used costume pieces or props from long-running shows like Wicked? (Those shows will often donate items after they've been worn through.)
Is there merchandise from a show that has recently closed? Any and all of these could be found at the Broadway Flea Market, in any given year. Scroll through previous year's posts on Instagram (check the hashtag #BroadwayFleaMarket) or search "Broadway Flea Haul" on YouTube to see what people have found before!
Keep in mind what shows and organizations have announced their own tables, and if they've had tables before, look out for old photos of what they've had in the past. Click here to see this year's lineup of tables.
2. Study the map on your way there.
To help you chart your coarse, consult the map of tables, which you can find on Broadway Cares' website, or on their social media accounts. Study it the morning of while you eat breakfast, or on the train ride to Midtown. See this year's map below.
3. Bring heavy duty bags that can hold a lot, as much cash as you plan to spend...and snacks!
Many things at the Broadway Flea Market are very low in price, so you might walk away with more items than you ever expected to carry home. A lot of people bring tote bags, but the most ideal options are a backpack or a messenger bag to distribute the weight more evenly. Bring backup tote bags or reusable grocery bags just in case you need more. And definitely bring one long, sturdy tote bag or grocery bag in case you buy any show posters or window cards. Rubber bands and hair ties are also great to have on hand to secure rolled posters, though volunteers at tables likely have some on hand as well, as well as plastic poster bags.
Though many tables now accept credit card payments, bringing cash can help you stick to a budget—because rest assured, you can and will lose track of your spendings very quickly when faced with such incredible finds! Cash is also very helpful for the particularly low-priced items, where certain knick knacks can cost just $1.
You'll also lose track of the time very easily while perusing the Broadway Flea Market, and before you know it, your hunger might progress into getting hangry. Bring a water bottle and a few snacks to be prepared for a full day of walking around.
The fans in the photo below have their arms full of tote bags!
4. Dress in layers.
The Broadway Flea Market usually takes place in September or October, and both months can have drastically varying temperatures in New York. Whether you're expecting a warm day or a chilly one, dress in layers so you can be prepared for a breeze...or the warmth that inevitably comes from standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd.
The Funny Girl fans in the photo below kept it cozy with their Henry Street beanies!
5. If you're sensitive to sound, bring what you need to feel comfortable.
Between the regular noises of Midtown (car horns honking, etc) and all of the chatter happening in the crowds around you, it can get overstimulating—especially where the Grand Auction is being held. If you're sensitive to sound, consider bringing a pair of headphones, or even earplugs that are designed to cancel out excess noise while still being able to hear the people around you.
6. Arrive early, and take a break mid-day.
If you're hoping to find more rare, exciting items, like prop pieces from your favorite shows, real costumes that were used onstage, and more relics, your best bet is to come as soon as the flea market opens. But considering the entire day runs until 7 PM, the FOMO can be real if you pack up and leave at the end of the morning, especially since some of the best deals and bargaining occurs as the tables begin to close! Take a break in the afternoon to grab lunch with friends and share your finds together. If you have a hotel room or apartment nearby, drop off your stuff and head back for round two!
(Bonus tip: if you are in need of air conditioning but don't want to take a full-blown break or leave the area, hotels may allow you to sit in their lobbies for a brief period. But be mindful, and make space for others once you've gotten the relief you needed!)
There are several Sunday matinees on the day of the flea market, which can also be a very fun way to take a break, and a great way to make the most of your day if you're visiting from out of town. If you don't book tickets in advance, head to the TKTS booth in the center of Times Square for a same-day deal.
7. Strategize your path.
Remember that priority list? Go from table to table when you first arrive at the Broadway Flea Market, then do a full lap around. If you're really on the hunt for the more rare items, use your priority list to guide you from spot to spot to see what you can grab before it's gone. After you've made your rounds, you can freely peruse the flea market in its entirety!
8. Do not skip out on The Theatre Development Fund (TDF)'s Pik-a-Tkt table!
One of the most thrilling opportunities at the Broadway Flea Market is undoubtedly TDF's ticket raffle. Each year, Broadway Flea attendees can purchase raffle tickets from the TDF table (usually, tickets are offered for two dollars each) for the chance to win a pair of tickets for a random Broadway or Off-Broadway show. Most running shows participate, meaning you could win tickets to anything from Moulin Rouge! to Chicago. Last year, over 60 shows participated. The raffle tickets are folded and stapled shut—break them open, and if your ticket has a winning stamp on it, take it over to the table to redeem for a random sealed envelope containing two Broadway show tickets!
Important note: the performance dates for these tickets are sometimes chosen for you—this will be indicated inside your ticket envelope. If you're visiting from out of town, you might not be able to attend your given performance date. If this is the case, feel free to reach out to the contact information listed inside the envelope to see if you can work something else out. But all proceeds still go to a great cause, and it's a fun gamble!
(Pro tip: If the tickets you received are for a show you've already seen or are not interested in seeing, those who have also recently won tend to stand around the table to try to make a trade!)
Below is an example of what the paper inside the envelope looks like, indicating which show you've won tickets to.
9. Don't overlook the "junk bins" or random boxes — that's where you'll find the most fun treasures at the lowest prices.
At a number of tables, you'll likely encounter cardboard boxes full of random odds and ends, like buttons, keychains, drink coasters, really anything. These items are usually priced between $1 and $5, and they're the most fun finds, as they're usually old merchandise items from closed shows, or even small gifts and tokens to cast members for special occasions (opening night gifts, anniversary performance gifts, etc). If you celebrate Christmas, they also make the best stocking stuffers for any Broadway fan!
All the items in the photo below cost just $1 from a random box at a table in Shubert Alley at last year's Broadway Flea!
10. Look out for cast members volunteering at show tables. They'll often autograph your purchases if you ask them!
Cast members from currently running Broadway shows often volunteer at their respective tables throughout the day. If you purchase items like Playbills, posters, or even t-shirts, bring a Sharpie and ask if they'll sign it! Some tables will charge a small fee for this (which is included as a donation), and some won't. But it's always worth asking.
The following Broadway favorites have confirmed their attendance to this year's flea: Harvey Fierstein, Tituss Burgess, Danny Burstein, David Byrne, Charlotte d'Amboise, Claybourne Elder, Ann Harada, Cherry Jones, Beth Leavel, Howard McGillan, Debra Monk, Lauren Patten, Michael Urie, and Adrienne Warren.
11. Whatever you're hoping to find, embrace the unexpected, and enjoy this opportunity to celebrate the theatre community.
The Broadway Flea Market is so much more than just a flea market—it's an all-day-long celebration of our community. If you're friends with other theatre fans, or if you're a member of the theatre industry yourself, you'll likely bump into countless familiar faces throughout the day, and you're bound to see some of your favorite performers taking the time out of their busy Broadway schedules to volunteer for an amazing cause.
Whether you're hoping to walk out with a signed Wicked poster or a rare Playbill, it's nearly a guarantee you'll walk out with an unexpected item, opportunity, experience, or even a new friend.
Whatever you do score, be sure to show off your finds online with a photo! Here's a picture of the author's very Phantom-y haul from last year.