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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series by fledgling Smorgasburg vendor Erica Wilders.  She’ll be chronicling the twists and turns of her new venture as they move from daydreaming to delivering the goods.

Total noobs! Will surveys the desolate field early in the morning of their first day at Smorgasburg. They were the first non-Greenmarket vendors to arrive.

I grew up on a dead-end street in a small Upstate New York town called Scotia. Despite the lack of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, my sister and I assembled a lemonade stand at the end of our driveway nearly every summer. All we needed to peddle our sweetened juice was a folding table, a stack of Dixie cups and a few willing customers, who generally consisted of neighbors and our parents.

Nearly twenty years later I find myself in a similar situation. But instead of my childhood driveway, I stand amidst 1,200 pounds of beans on the dusty earth of the Smorgasburg lot.

Friday, June 24 – Situation Zipcar

I always knew our first attempt with The Brooklyn Bean Co. would have a few hiccups. I just never thought one of these hiccups would result in a trip to Hoboken.

Like many Brooklynites, Will and I do not own a car. And for the majority of our urban life we do not miss it. However, when you have nearly 2,000 pounds of cargo to move from Fort Greene to Williamsburg, you really can’t rely on the bus. So, we decided to give Zipcar a try, as it seemed to make sense for our vendor needs. We were wrong.

5:30 pm

“Ms. Wilders, this is Andy from Zipcar, there is a bit of an issue with your reservation.”

“What do you mean, issue?”

“The Honda Element you reserved is having transmission problems, so we are going to put you in another car. We have a Honda Civic for you.”

I calmly explained to Andy that a Honda Civic would do me as much good as a bicycle. I needed a truck, and a big one.

“Ma’am we don’t have any trucks available in New York right now. We are completely booked.”

After temporarily losing my cool with Andy, I hung up and frantically searched the internet for other rental options, called every U-Haul facility in Brooklyn and checked my bank account to see if I had enough money to buy a truck. No dice.

Will was at work and I was surrounded by 47 bags of beans that might miss their Smorgasburg unveiling because Zipcar doesn’t have a backup plan.

Forty seven bags of beans, anxiously awaiting their ride to their Smorgasburg debut

6:15 pm

I wanted to cry. Ok, I did cry. We had used every moment of the last two weeks prepping for this debut – transferring countless beans to burlap bags, agonizing over every word printed on our description cards and even spending one morning on our rooftop testing out the E-Z Up tent. I couldn’t let Zipcar be our demise.

I called Andy back and demanded a truck. I spoke (and by spoke, I mean screamed) to his supervisor and various other representatives, who now surely joke about the crazy lady with her 1,200 pounds of beans. But all my ranting must have done some good as I was eventually informed that there was a pick-up truck available in Hoboken.

Before I knew it I was speed-walking to the C train. I had never been to Hoboken but I knew it was in New Jersey and I was pretty sure the PATH would take me there.

7:30 pm

The energy of Hoboken was quite refreshing. Twenty-somethings sipped icy cocktails at sidewalk cafes while shop owners lowered their gates at the end of a busy day. The carefree vibe eased my bubbling insides and I sent Will a reassuring text:

“I’m in Hoboken…I have the truck…everything is OK.”

It was a small lie because I didn’t have the truck yet. I was standing in front of an empty parking space where the truck was supposed to be. The thought of calling Andy again made me queasy. As my fingers began to dial I heard a slight rumbling in the distance. Could it be? Yes. Down the parking garage ramp rolled my truck.

“Have you been waiting long?” asked the kind Australian gentleman who emerged from the driver’s seat.

I could only muster up a gentle chuckle in response.

Saturday, June 25 – Smorgasburg, Day One

With Situation Zipcar behind us, we were minimally rested and ready to sell. The truck was half-loaded, but there was still about 1,000 pounds of equipment to haul from our top-floor brownstone apartment to the truck. Fueled by adrenaline and residual anger, our last-minute packing took only an hour and by 6:45 am our tires were rolling towards the Smorgasburg lot.

George, the market manager, arrived at 7:00 and directed us to our spot.

“You’re here early,” he smiled. Kindly implying our amateur status was evident.

Getting ready for day one

We were the first non-greenmarket vendor to arrive and we intentionally planned it this way give ourselves ample time to fix any major screw-ups before the 9:00 am opening. The Vendor Gods thankfully showed us some mercy as our set-up was relatively smooth. The gentle slope from the sidewalk to the lot only got the best of us once, spilling our tables, tent and mats right in front of the seasoned greenmarket vendors. We shook off that moment of embarrassment and hoisted our tent towards the awakening sky.

As we began to unearth our beans around 8:30 am, their colors even more vibrant in the morning sun, we had our first customer.

A woman clutching a plastic bag full of green leafy vegetables, entered our unfinished booth. She quietly scanned our merchandise and nodded with approval before purchasing one pound of black beluga lentils and one pound of cranberry beans.

Brooklyn Bean Company's setup at Smorgasburg

Will and I exchanged no words, just a glance, capturing the moment we made our first sale.

The following eight hours were a bustling blur. Friends and family stopped by and achieved their “a-ha” moment after listening to us explain our vision for months. Fellow vendors and Flea managers Rob and Jane showed their support. Renae of Bon Chovie deemed the booth a “bean oasis” and our incredibly kind neighbors Tin Mustard and Common Good purchased some of our legumes before calling it a day.

But most importantly, people bought beans. Lots of them.

Our customers varied from bean enthusiasts who knew exactly what they wanted, to novices who were intrigued by our selection. People asked questions about where our beans are from, how to cook them and when we’ll be back.

Our biggest sale was from a Californian couple who purchased 10 pounds of beans. And one girl loved our beans so much she pocketed a single black calypso before exiting the booth. We’re still curious what she did with it.

Some came in to take photos. Some came in thinking we were selling coffee. Some came in to make flatulence jokes. But the validation and sense of accomplishment we felt after each conversation and each sale made the late nights and aching muscles worth it.

The beans, ready for action

The day didn’t end without one more teeny mistake. I forgot that I’m a 5 foot 2 inch woman and have the upper body strength of a six-year-old. After days of lifting a series of 25-pound bags, minimal sleep and an unexpected trip to Jersey, my body shut down. As the market ended around us, I felt myself weakened and knew I didn’t take the advice of my fellow vendors and “drink more water than a camel.”

I looked at the 2,000 pounds of cargo.

I looked at my battered arms.

I looked at Will.

He silently assumed the responsibility of bringing our day to a close.

I’m impressed by many things he does. Today it wasn’t the fact that he lifted 2,000 pounds of equipment into our faithful truck or that he remained patient with my ailing body. It was his last interaction of the day that amazed me. A potential vendor was scoping out the scene, just as we had done a few months ago.

“I’m going to be selling here in a few weeks,” she said, approaching our dismantled booth. “How do these tents work?”

I watched Will’s sweat-stained face grow into an enthusiastic glow as he explained the inner-workings of E-Z Up tents, folding tables and the importance of staying hydrated.

“Today was our first day selling. It’s a lot of fun…,” he shot me a smirk, “and a lot of work.”

I smiled back.

Through it all he hadn’t forgotten how far we’ve come or how far we have to go.

Erica, shiny new scoop in hand, at Brooklyn Bean Company's Smorgasburg debut

Next installment: Our trip to a Pacific Northwest bean farm.

Previous installmentDiary of a Fledgling Fleaster Part 1 – Are We Really Doing This?

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8 Responses to Epicurean Carny: Diary of a Fledgling Fleaster Part 2 – The Smorgasburg Debut

  1. Mary Beth DeAngelus-Kormondy says:

    I read your blog with tears in my eyes..I’m so proud of you and your new adventure..Can’t wait to follow and finish reading your wishes erica and will ..with hugs, MB

  2. allen ying says:

    these beans are from the pacific northwest, not brooklyn, or ny state even? where plenty of beans are grown?

    • Erica says:

      Hi Allen,

      Thank you for your question.

      Yes, beans are grown in NY/the Northeast, but few are available in the large quantities we require. In general, most dried beans are commercially grown in the western US as well as outside the country. We have, however, started talks with a farm in hopes to offer a few local varieties in the coming months.

      In my first installment of this series, I explained our attempt to work with many farmers in the Northeast. They were reluctant to work with us right now 1) because their harvest is either small or not ready and 2) because of the immense amount of labor/little return in cultivating dried beans. Our current goal is to stimulate momentum and create a stronger market for dried beans so farmers, local and beyond, will be motivated to work with us in the future.

      All the best,

  3. Keri says:

    Erica and Will, So excited for you and all that you have done with this business in such a short amount of time :) So many people seem to really love your unique and specific product! Believe me when I tell you that if you are already this successful in this early part of your business venture you will be successful in the future! Keep up your love for the beans, your stamina…stay hydrated and work out those biceps!

  4. Samantha says:

    What race was the Californian couple? I’m dying to know. It’s so relevant to the story.

  5. Jenna Park says:

    As a fellow Flea vendor, congrats on your first successful flea debut.
    On another note, I feel I need to point this sentence out:
    “A meek Asian woman, clutching a plastic bag full of green leafy vegetables, entered our unfinished booth. ”
    I am sitting here sort of in shock because I can’t believe that these words were written and that this was allowed to be published. You must know that this is offensive.

    • Erica says:

      Hi Jenna,

      Thank you for your comment. As soon as I saw someone had interpreted the sentence as offensive I changed it. The words you pointed out were purely meant to be descriptive and certainly not meant to offend or upset anyone. This woman was our very first customer ever and would have stuck in my mind regardless of her race or demeanor.

      All the best,

  6. Dear Erica, Congratulations on your new venture. When I saw beans, I thought coffee. As I read the blog, you are selling BEANS!. As I was reading your posting, I felt like I was part of the experience, and am excited about knowing what happens next!
    Love, Rev. Michaela

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