“Hey girl!” That’s how he always greets me. Casual, engaged, warm, like we have known each other for years.
But we haven’t. It’s been weeks at best and from the first moment we talked on the phone I knew he was someone who would keep me inspired and entertained.
A few months back Harrison and I were bouncing around ideas on how we could help encourage others to shop small and invest their holiday dollars in our neighbors this season. We thought of hosting some sort of pop-up market but conversations quickly moved to others in the community that were already doing something similar. How could we instead join in to support them.
That’s what led me to Joseph Bradford the creative entrepreneur behind Winston-Salem’s first curated maker and picker public market, Hoots Flea.
A self-proclaimed “vagabond” he came to the Camel City by way of Brooklyn by way of LA by way of the shores of Southern California. Trying to capture his many moves and ventures could warrant a weekly series. When asked how he came across Winston-Salem and chose to call the city home, he says simply “it all started with auctions and old trucks”.
He says that it was through those auctions and old trucks that he found a place that embraced his passion for picking, repurposing, promoting, collaborating, as well as a community that encourages creative entrepreneurs to take risks in order to help the town evolve.
Way back when he was a teen in Southern Cali, he discovered one of his first passions, playing drums. Shortly thereafter Joseph left high school, worked as a drum tech at a small local venue, which then led to more lucrative work in the professional music industry.
During that time he moved from the calm, laid-back shore where he grew up and entered into the land of bright lights and big personalities, Los Angeles. He worked for a major record label and spent almost all of his days each year on tour traveling the country. He was able to see a lot, hear a lot, meet a lot and experience a lot but in the end life on the road does make a man weary. Ultimately it was as he watched his friends’ relationships fizzle out with the lifestyle that he decided it was time to make a change. So one day he “woke up in the hills of LA, went into work, quit, packed up his car, drove back home to San Diego, ate a burrito and never looked back.”
“So then what?,” I asked. “Well, I worked at Home Depot… on their Christmas tree lot” he says. He just started figuring it out with no clear direction. He did however know what he did not want. “I couldn’t do a desk, 9 to 5. I’ve tried it. It just doesn’t work for me.”
Back home he had fallen in love with a “beautiful, phenomenal woman” and when that relationship was over he decided it was time to brush himself off and move on again.
Which brings us to his time in Brooklyn. After landing in the city that personifies “hustle” he followed a few opportunities to resume work in the music industry. But it’s competitive in the city that never sleeps and he found himself returning to that old standby of relying on his street smarts and following his instinct.
One day while poking around online he stumbled across an 1972 ford F100. It was down in Anderson, South Carolina.
He saw income potential; he knew there was an unmet niche in Manhattan for this sort of thing. “People just love Americana.” And in Manhattan’s West Village they have the demand and the necessary disposable income to back it up.
“But I didn’t even know where Anderson, South Carolina was.”
But as I’m quickly learning, nothing that minor would slow Joseph Bradford down.
Days later he, fueled with his entrepreneurial spirit, bought an Amtrak ticket, rode down to South Carolina, took a forty-minute cab ride from the train station and arrived “at a random old mobile home with that old truck pictured sitting out front.”
He paid the owner cash and immediately got on the road to head back north to the city. He didn’t make it an hour down the road before the truck broke down.
“I called the guy like hey man, your truck already died on me but he apologized and said he had already spent the money. There was nothing I could really do. I barely had any money so I asked him if I could just tow it back to his place to figure out what I was going to do next.”
So there he was, at this random dude’s trailer, in the middle of South Carolina with only $100 in his pocket. One hundred dollars that he had intended to use on gas to get him back up to the city. He spent the next ten hours at this random place sorting things out and together, they went up to the guy’s friend’s garage to see what he might be able to do to help.
There he spotted an orange 1970 Dodge. “I asked him if we could trade but because his truck actually ran he wanted an extra grand for it. So luckily some friends up in New York wired me the money, I switched trucks” and off he went.
He parked that truck as is, in all of its Americana glory at a train station with a “For Sale” sign in the window. It sold in a day for about triple the cost. He used that money to buy another, repeat staging, and again, a rapid sale. He had found his new hustle and he was hooked. He and some buddies founded Bowery Trucks and quickly grew a reputation for having the best vintage trucks in the city. He began getting commissioned to source trucks for clients in the West Village and would even personally deliver to their vacation homes in The Hamptons. He’d buy, deliver, return south, buy, deliver, return south.
“That’s how I got to know North Carolina. Wherever Amtrak went, I went.” High Point has the closest station, and by landing there it brought him here – to Winston-Salem.
He grew to really appreciate the culture of the south. Here in the south he said he found honest people and a rich heritage of antiquing and picking. All of the things he loves.
A few trips before he made the big move down south he was in town bidding on a truck at auction for a client. It was there that he met Krankies co-founder and local developer, John Bryan. John was also there bidding on the same truck. For the record, John won the bid.
They later met again in the parking lot of Krankies. Joseph had asked him casually if he knew if there were any good flea markets in the area. Not the kind with “tube socks and puppies”, but the second generation kind full of makers, artisans, antiquers. The kind that had popped up all over the country in metropolitan cities. John said “no” to which Joseph immediately followed with “you want to start one with me?” True to character John was down and said he had the perfect place.
Two short months later these two dudes who, quite frankly, know how to avoid the trap of over analyzing and just make things happen, hosted the first of many Hoots Flea Markets over at West End MillWorks, also home to Hoots Beer Company.
For local makers and creators,the flea market have become another lucrative place to promote their work and sell their wares. For Joseph, it’s a way to channel his experience in music production and vintage picking into one vibrant public event. He also feels he is contributing to the energy of Winston; he appreciates meeting some really talented folks and helping them grow their businesses.
We talk about how producing a successful event is more than just about promotion and product; it’s about “capturing all of the senses.” He puts a lot of thought into each quirky element. From the space design to the food on-hand, to the look and feel, to the entertainment. He loves creating an experience. “That’s what I think sets our fleas apart.”
He said it was really easy to find interested vendors. He just started knocking on doors and word started to spread. I asked him if he had trouble gaining traction and getting connected; I have heard others say that has sometimes been the case for them.
“Not really. Everyone from established and engaged locals like Ralph Womble to city officials including the mayor have been supportive. It’s unlike any other place I’ve been.” He says with a laugh, “And obviously I’ve been to a lot of places,”
Hoots Flea Market debuted in September of 2013 with 19 vendors on hand. This past summer they hosted their largest flea to date with over 100 vendors, 10 food trucks and loads of quirky entertainment in the new-ish Bailey Park at the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. Next up is a holiday market in a vacant warehouse off of Liberty Street near Trade.
When I met him at the event site the other day he said, as he turned the old knob to the front door, “now you have to use your imagination. It’s pretty raw, but the owner is going to clean it up for us before the event.”
But I didn’t need to use much of my own imagination because as we walked from nook to cranny, from floor to floor, I just listened and followed along with his.
“So this bathroom doesn’t work, obviously, so I’m going to set up loads of old televisions playing Christmas movies. Like some of the really wacky ones…” he says. “And here’s where Santa will be setup for pictures. Right next to Hoots Beer.” Naturally.
He talked me through his ideas for lighting and sounds and energy. I laughed, “where do you come up with this stuff.” He looked at me like “what do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It just comes to me.”
We tinker around the space pointing out little treasures that were left behind.
We talked about how there are so many hidden property gems in Winston-Salem just waiting for a new life. We agreed connecting inspired ideas with the right landlords and investors is the key to our city’s continued growth.
He’s planning to host maybe seven to eight flea markets here next year and is dabbling with expanding the concept into a few other cities in North Carolina.
“We are also changing the name,” he says. “As we continue to evolve and move into new locations it just makes sense.”
The new name “Pokez” pays homage to his favorite Mexican restaurant in San Diego. For him the new name is a subtle tie to his southern California roots.
“So do you think you’ll move again?” I ask. “I mean, that seems to be the trend.”
He answers quickly and firmly “Oh no, I’m here to stay. I love North Carolina. And I’m getting too old to keep moving.” He says he wants to put his energy into becoming more invested in one community, this community.
With that we continue roaming the space planning what is sure to be one of his best fleas yet.
Mark your calendars for the Pokez Holiday Flea Market, December 12th & 13th.
Details can be found right here. We hope we see you there.