Scavengers and treasure hunters rejoice: Caldor East, East Hampton’s one and only free flea market, is open again. Announced by the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday in response to numerous requests, a grand reopening of the home-exchange program took place last weekend, although a lengthy set of rules came with it and, with little advance notice, pickings were slim.
Two hopefuls, wearing matching salmon shirts and khakis, approached on Friday to see if there was anything to make a commotion about. “Oh my God. There’s nothing, jeez,” one muttered as he got close. Some Christmas lights and decorations — ideal for anyone who wanted to start hoarding for the holiday season — were seen among children’s toys and books, and a rather handsome set of dinner plates and bowls were waiting for a new owner.
The need for a home exchange goes back to the 1960's when then-Supervisor Bill Collins lamented about beach chairs and andirons making their way into the landfills. In 1988, the town set up a circus tent in what it called the "voluntary recycling and salvage area" for residents who wanted a convenient place to drop household goods. The nickname "Caldor East" came from a discount department store that used to be at the Bridgehampton Commons. In 2005, however, things got somewhat out of hand. Scavengers were reportedly overstaying the 30-minute rule, spending all afternoon circling and stockpiling items until closing time. When a child was nearly run over amid the chaos, a red flag went up, and it was closed for a time. Then, in 2011, during the administration of Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, a death knell was sounded. The town board decided to avoid the cost of having employees monitor what went on, as well as what it said was the nightmare of managing it. With Supervisor Larry Cantwell now at the helm and with Highway Department cooperation, Caldor East has now been resurrected.
“We hope that those who need the recycled things that can be reused will benefit from it and that those of us who’d like to get rid of something that’s usable, that we don’t want to throw away and destroy, will be able to do so,” Mr. Cantwell said on June 5.
The rules, which are posted on a large sign, emphasize that items must, in fact, be “in good working order, clean, and ready to be reused.” As a precaution, residents are to check in with an attendant at a nearby booth before proceeding. No mattresses, upholstered furniture, scrap metal, or overstocked or personal care items will be accepted.
Scavengers are limited to two visits per day, and there is a 15-minute parking limit. Those using the exchange are to be polite and to “wait for items to be placed in reuse area” before taking them (in other words, one is not to attempt to clean out someone’s trunk unless encouraged to do so). The rules will be enforced via an honor system and good will, and on Saturday morning, the second day of operation, not only were the pickings slim but there was nary a task-enforcer in sight.
At least until further notice, the exchange will be open only on Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. And the word at Town Hall is that Caldor East will return to its former glory.