Pierson Blaetz and Whitney Weston are about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their iconic Melrose Trading Post on the corner of Fairfax and Melrose. The Sunday open-air market is a delightful melange of vendors selling everything from antiques and collectibles to clothing, featuring a newly expanded food court and two music stages.
Blaetz says it all began in 1997, an outgrowth of his and Weston’s acting careers.
“We were working in the Fairfax area, and we had an idea of doing an arts education program at the school. We decided to attend a parents’meeting, and to our surprise, out of a student body of about 3700, there were only two parents and the principal and other staff members there. We quickly realized that arts education was the least of their concerns, they needed money. We came up with the Trading Post as a fundraising idea for just one day.”
Instead of one day, the Trading Post concept, which started with 40 vendors and 400 attendees, has kept on going. “Today we average 5000 visitors every Sunday of the year, and have around 240 vendors,” Blaetz relates.
The relationship between the Melrose Trading Post and the school is a unique one, a public/private partnership. “It was always a partnership between our Greenway Arts Alliance non-profit, and the public school. We’ve organically built a relationship, splitting the profit down the middle. We have raised $8 million dollars as cash for the school which goes directly to the needs of the students, clubs, and organizations.”
That impressive sum has gone toward everything from a gymnasium scoreboard to computers.
“We have a fairly elaborate system for clubs and organizations who need funds,” Blaetz explains. “They need to volunteer to set up or break down at the Trading Post, and we require they take a leadership workshop that we offer before applying.”
The Melrose Trading Post is just one of three parts of the Greenway Arts Alliance that Blaetz and Weston run. “We also run the Greenway Court Theater, producing plays with some of the best talent in the city. Currently, we’re performing 1984. Our third program is the Greenway Institute for the Arts, through which teachers at the high school can request guest teaching artists to support classroom instruction.” The Institute for the Arts also provides extremely successful after-school dance and theater programs, a dance studio, rehearsal room, and media room at the high school. Students perform both fall and spring productions which are held at the Greenway Theater.
Meanwhile, The Melrose Trading Post that supports these programs, is thriving. “We bring in vendors with an artisan bent whether they are selling antiques and collectibles or clothing,” he says. “We curate the market, choosing vendors who have something to say.”
Fifteen of the vendors have been with the trading post since the beginning. The market continues to expand, with a recent addition of a second live music stage and an expansion of the food court, both new this year.
“Why we continue to be successful is that we’re so varied. We have vendors that sell jewelry, vendors that sell artistic, Etsy-type items, antiques, clothing. What we don’t have are corporate brands. If you can buy it at a department store, we don’t want it here,” he states. “Over the years, many of our vendors have provided a timeless experience in terms of collectibles and recycled design elements.”
And for the future of the Melrose Trading Post? “Even as more and more people are buying items online, we will be the place where you are dealing with humanity, conversing with a vendor, listening to music. There are over 240 businesses here that are making it because you shop here. It’s a personal experience.”
Looking beyond the Trading Post to the future of Melrose Avenue itself, Blaetz adds “I’m on the board of the business district, and for me it is all about creating a palette for interesting shops, enticing people to come to the street.”
The Melrose Trading Post is located at 7850 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046 and runs every Sunday.