D.I.Y. N.J. Part VI: Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market

TPRFM inside1

BREAKING BAZAAR– TRENTON PUNK ROCK FLEA MARKET

10+ Questions for Joseph F. Kuzemka the founder and producer of The Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market

By Matt Chrystal (WNJ correspondent)

I am flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi with America’s hottest band… and we are all about to die! Nah, I’m just at home, relocating this sweet button of Falkor (yes, the luck dragon) from my denim jacket to my denim vest because… well, because it’s summer time and because I gotta have my best gear on when I head down to Trenton this weekend. What is luring me and travelers from all over to New Jersey’s capitol on August 7th is not a tour of the Department of Treasury but a tour of the Historic Roebling Machine Shop for a scavenger hunt in search of obscure treasures (like the Falkor button and back issues of Weird NJ magazine) at the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market. There amongst a sea of DIY vendors showcasing their unique wares, food trucks dishing up tasty treats and attendees clamoring for bargains, you will probably see, Joseph F. Kuzemka, a towering figure clad with a bandana around his head and walkie-talkie in hand, taking it all in with a smile beaming out through his salt and peppered beard.

TPRFM Joseph K

Photo by Jeff Crespi

Mr. Kuzemka has taken the term “DIY” to the next level. His idea of hosting a gallery event where small business vendors and artists can show off and peddle their goods has progressed into a thrice-yearly, weekend long emporium extravaganza that brings in thousands to New Jersey’s capitol city. In the midst of all the preparation for this upcoming installment of the TPRFM, Joseph F. Kuzemka found the time to answer my 10+ questions for this week’s edition of #DIYNJ

Everyone loves an origin story, Soooo… 1. I usually start off by asking where the name comes from, but in this case, obviously it is a flea market in Trenton, NJ. But what about this event embodies the spirit of “punk rock”?

TPRFM PosterMusic aside, punk has always been about attitude, style, DIY and generally not giving a fuck about what the establishment dictates is and is not socially acceptable. Through the creativity and DIY ethic that most of our vendors hold dear, they are the living embodiment of punk. Either through their creativity, beginning their own small business or by making a difference in their community. These may not be traditional definitions when describing “punk”, but this isn’t your traditional flea market.

2a. When and How did you get started?

The TPRFM began with our first event in January 2013 at a small gallery in Downtown Trenton called Artworks. We hosted right around 50 vendors and although my initial projections saw 400 people attending and just hoping that it may be a cool community event, it brought out over 2,000 people from all around the tri-state area. We’ve moved venues twice since then but have been at the Historic Roebling Wire Works since our third event in November of 2013. We currently host 250+ vendor tables with close to 200 vendors, a dozen food trucks and we generally see upwards of 5,000-7,000 people attend each event.

2b. Did the idea for the TPRFM originate with you?

The idea of a punk rock flea market is not a new one and I didn’t come up with it. Both Seattle and Philadephia have had one for years. I’d been a fan of the Philly PRFM and after a conversation with a friend one evening I decided that I’d begin the TPRFM. I’d always been a big fan of vintage flea markets, art, records etc., and I thought the area was sort of ripe for this sort of idea. Trenton is smack dab in the center of NYC and Philadelphia with a major transportation hub and we already had a very strong and blossoming arts scene. In theory it made sense. With my 20 years’ experience in marketing and graphic design, I just felt I could do things a bit differently and really work at driving traffic to the flea market.

2c. How has the brand TPRFM grown on the business side of the things?

TPRFM shirtsIt may have started with me but it’s grown into a year round project with three major events per year and several people who work diligently on this event from managing our vendors to securing items for our Black Swag Bags or managing the distribution of the 10,000 flyers and hundreds of poster that we distribute in up to eight different states. That doesn’t even take into consideration our event staff of over 20 people who really break their backs to put on a flawless event each and every time. It’s truly a team effort and I have a really amazing team. The TPRFM is very lucky to have all of them.

3. What does your process look like (selecting the venue, selecting vendors, bands/entertainment, themes, all that kinda stuff)?

The process is relatively simple – vendors apply to vend, which is essentially an open call format. After that the real work begins… the TPRFM team sifts through ALL vendor registrations and then determines if they are best suited for our market. Unfortunately, not everyone makes the cut and we do occasionally turn people away. We also do not allow large resellers such as Jamberry, Origami Owl or Avon to sell with us. Our market is strictly for individually-owned small businesses, artists and other DIY vendors who create with their hands. We just recently began featuring live music at our April 2016 event and it was a rousing success so we’ll be doing more of that in the future, where we look to feature some really great music. Up until now we’ve worked pretty closely with the great network of musicians in the greater-Trenton area and we’ll be looking to expand upon that in the future.

4. How big a role does the area/community of NJ that you operate out of play into your brand – i.e. inspiration? motivation? support? resources?

Our community plays a large role in what we do and how we do it. The way I see it, Trenton has its fair share of negative headlines and we’re out to prove that wrong. There’s a tremendous amount of creativity, music and more here in the Capital City and quite frankly, we’re more than a negative headline that is typically painted of both our great city and Trentonians alike. We have an amazing network of artists that are really making a difference here and although I’d say we’re still in our infancy, I’d put our creative community up against any other in the country. Asbury Park may be where the music lives, but the Capital City is where creativity currently resides.

Speaking of community… in marketing and networking these days, online communities usually have a big role in the success and expansion of DIY businesses. Given the progression of your events in terms of scope and size, you have clearly seen much success. It is probably safe to assume that TPRFM’s ever growing online buzz caused you to appear on the radar of the lawyers behind the Misfits and the WWE for issues related to advertising. Those issues becoming public seemed to light a fire under keyboard crusaders across New Jersey and beyond. With any relationship, emotions can run high and there seems to be periods of love and hate as opinions and reviews flow freely on open forums and message boards. So with that in mind…

5. Does being part of an online community make it difficult to “please the people” and still “stay true” to your vision?

I suppose it depends on how you want to manage your creative endeavors. For me, it’s not about pleasing the people as much as it is staying true to your mission. You’ll never please 100% of the people 100% of the time, and you’d drive yourself crazy trying to do so.

TPRFM shirtMost people know by now that we were served with a Cease and Desist letter from the Misfits for using the “Misfits font” on the poster for The Undead (featuring Bobby Steele, formerly of The Misfits) after party we had planned in April 2016. Personally speaking, they’re not my Misfits and I don’t recognize them as such. We decided to flip the script on them and serve them with our own Cease and Desist letter letting them know that we thought any interpretation of the Misfits without Glenn Danzig was, in fact, not the Misfits. We also called for them to stop performing under that name for those same reasons. Obviously, the letter was written and sent in jest but that doesn’t negate the fact that the sentiments were true. This is punk rock, man. We take care of our own. They clearly forgot that after years of Hot Topic t-shirt sales and zero record sales. You want to bring attorneys into it? Cool. We’re going to let you know what we think when you do though. You can bank on that. We’ll always stay true to what we believe. That’s what the TPRFM was built upon.

6. What phase of the love/hate relationship would describe your current state of mind when dealing with the online community? This is a safe place, you can be honest here!

Honestly… the online community and our fans and followers in general are extremely supportive and are always eager to share, like and provide positive feedback. I look at it this way… you take care of the people who support you and they’ll continue to provide that support. We’re very lucky to have such a strong fan base of followers and supporters!

7a. The TPRFM has brought in vendors, acts and attendees from all over the Garden State and beyond. What is one of your favorite adventures or experiences related to the TPRFM?

We’ve experienced a lot of great moments at the TPRFM but I think my personal favorite is meeting a young man from San Diego who started following the TPRFM on Instagram and Facebook and decided that the TPRFM was cool enough that he’d fly across the country to visit our Holiday flea market in November of 2015. That was a pretty surreal experience. Just knowing that someone was so inspired to fly 3,000 miles to visit an event that you created and hosted is just a spectacular feeling. That was a really proud moment for me. Aside from that, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredible people over the past few years and it’s proven to be a really trippy ride. The Mark’s from Weird NJ are a prime example of that. I mean, 20 years ago when I was in college, I was redesigning covers of Weird NJ issues for my graphic design classes… now those guys are vending with us at most of our events. Hell, 30 years ago I was watching Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake cut wrestlers hair with garden shears… at our first two day event in April 2016 he was with us, shaking hands and taking pictures the entire weekend.

7b. Any least favorites?

Least favorite is easy… dealing with the management of former Misfits singer Michael Graves when he vended with us a few years ago. I apparently have zero luck with the Misfits on any level. I’ll just stick with my copy of Walk Among Us and leave it at that.

We have touched on the origins and evolution of the TPRFM, let’ shift and talk about what’s going on in the immediate and distant future… 8. What should we know about what you got going on?

Well, we’re currently focused on the Summer Edition of the TPRFM coming up this Sunday August 7th from 10am-5pm which will feature almost 200 vendors and a dozen food trucks. We’ll also be featuring live music with several great performances throughout the day as well as a “Dunk the Punk” tank where local punks can be dunked for charity. All proceeds will benefit the Lady Margaret Animal Foundation. It should be a great day and we’re beyond excited to see everyone!

9. What’s on the horizon for you and the TPRFM?

TPRFM Oct 2016 PosterAfter this event we’ll be back for our Fall edition of the TPRFM with a huge two day event on October 29 & 30! We’ll be going full blown Halloween with this one and will be featuring over 200 different vendors a dozen different food trucks each day, a huge costume contest for cool prizes and a whole lot more that we currently have in the works but are still uber top secret including some special guests that we’ll be working on!

10a. You produce a few other events, right? Can you tell us a little about them?

Aside from the TPRFM, I also own and produce the Capital City Food Truck Battle which is a food truck celebration held at Rho Waterfront where we have 15 food trucks battling it out for top honors as well as live music and more.

I’m also the event director for the wildly popular Art All Night–Trenton, which just celebrated its ten year anniversary. This is the amazing community event where I cut my teeth on event management and is one of the dearest things to my heart. I’ve been with the event since the beginning as the Creative Director and have been the Event Director and Creative Director since 2011. In 2016, the event attracted over 30,000 people as we invited over 1,500 artists to display their work. You can learn more about Art All Night at www.aantrenton.org.

10b. And for the TPRFM, where can folks find you to keep up with you?

We’re pretty active with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and our website is a great place to get info on the flea from both an attendee’s or potential vendor’s perspective. We can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/trentonpunkrockfleamarket or on Twitter and Instagram at @TrentonPRFM. You can find us on the interwebs at www.trentonprfm.com.

Thanks for the info and your time, Mr. Kuzemka! See ya THIS SUNDAY, Aug. 7th at the TRENTON PUNK ROCK FLEA MARKET. Annnnd to our faithful readers, stop by and say “Hi” to Mark and or Mark at the Weird NJ booth at the TPRFM. AND Stay Up, Stay Tuned and Tune In Next Time.