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Every Sunday, thousands of people flock to the Melrose Trading Post on the Fairfax High School campus to find something fabulous from the more than 240 vendors selling antiques, collectibles, vintage clothing, art and handcrafted goods.
The Melrose Trading Post has been a community gathering space since 1997, when actors and founders Pierson Blaetz and Whitney Weston were looking for a way to bring arts education to students at Fairfax High. At the time, few people in the community seemed to care about the school or reached out with support, they said. With a background in arts nonprofits and a desire to get involved, Blaetz and Weston heard about a meeting with parents and the principal, and thought it was the perfect opportunity.
“We thought there was going to be this big library full of parents with lots of ideas and we would see how we could work with them. When we walked in the door, there were two parents and the principal sitting at a table,” Weston said. “We told them we were from the community, and there was really a sense of fear that if you’re from the community, you are here to complain. We explained that we wanted to help. The principal was on board and said, ‘We love you guys, but we need money.’”
The pair started brainstorming, and Blaetz remembered there used to be a flea market at Fairfax High years ago. They latched on to the idea and received school approval to launch the Melrose Trading Post.
“Our idea was to do it one time as a fundraiser for the school. Pierson had the idea, let’s do it every week, and we have been doing it every Sunday for almost 24 years,” Weston said.
“We had maybe 40 vendors in the be-ginning, and Whitney and I were actually on the street offering free lemonade [and saying], ‘Come on in,’” Blaetz recalled. “Over time, more vendors showed up, and we were able to build out the market.”
The Melrose Trading Post made it possible for Blaetz and Weston to fulfill their dream of bringing arts education to Fairfax High School. The trading post has raised $10 million, half of which has gone directly to the school, and the other half to the nonprofit Greenway Arts Alliance, through which Blaetz and Weston provide opportunities for students in drama, spoken word and theatrical performance. Greenway Art Alliance offers in-school and after school arts programs that otherwise wouldn’t be available at Fairfax High School. The project has had a positive impact on countless students thanks to funds raised by the Melrose Trading Post, they said.
The Melrose Trading Post employs 40 Fairfax students where they learn customer service skills and receive coaching in job interviewing and resume building. They also serve as school ambassadors for the community, which was one of the initial goals in starting the trading post.
“Our core mission, the essence, is building community, making connections in our community,” Blaetz said. “It’s all about connecting people. We are community builders, and the arts is the tool of how we do that.”
The success of the trading post lies in its connectivity and a unique blend of merchants and family entertainment. Food trucks are parked onsite and live music is played throughout the day. The $5 entrance fee, combined with the proceeds from renting spaces to vendors, generates the much-needed money for the school and its arts programs, Blaetz said.
“That’s why people feel it’s a relaxing and interesting place to be, because it’s really mission-driven over just making money,” Blaetz added. “We see ourselves as the original local. The creative crowd shops at our market, and the creative crowd sells at our market.”
“And if you just want to people watch and have a taco, you can do that too,” Weston added.
Blaetz announced that the Melrose Trading Post’s educational mission is expanding beyond Fairfax High into working with local elementary and middle schools to provide arts education and community exposure. He also said a professor at California State University, Los Angeles will soon begin studying the Melrose Trading Post’s business model, exploring its potential as a transformational way for schools around the world to raise money and support the arts.
“It’s a very unique approach to using public school property when students aren’t using it,” Blaetz added. “That’s the essence of what we do. It’s a smart way to use the property that benefits the school and the community.”
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