In June, when a gang-related shooting turned a popular Trenton all-night arts festival into a scene of bloody chaos, killing one man and injuring 22, some in this capital city predicted that would mark the last time the Roebling Wire Works building hosted a large-scale public event.
But this weekend, the long-vacant Roebling building will be open to thousands of people from across the region for the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market's two-day Halloween shopping extravaganza, featuring 400 vendors, food trucks, music, and even a live skate jam. There will be an increased security presence, comparable to an arena or other major event, said South Trenton native Joseph Kuzemka, the flea market's organizer. Based on past flea markets, Kuzemka expects 8,000 to 10,000 people over two days.
"It's important on many levels to bounce back from something like this," Kuzemka said of the June 17 shootings. "But being able to do it in the building where that tragic event occurred is of the utmost importance. The Roebling Wire Works building, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable assets in the city of Trenton. Outside of the arena, it's the largest event venue that we have in town."
Events like the Saturday return of the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market are especially important to Trenton's redevelopment plan, said Tom Gilmour, executive director of the Trenton Downtown Association. Before arriving in Trenton, Gilmour was the director of economic development in Asbury Park from 2002 to 2015. He believes music and the arts are a great economic engine, and is working to make Trenton a recognized arts destination.
"One of the challenges is the perception that Trenton is not a place you want to go," he said. "We want people to know they can come in and have a good time and be safe."
Violent crime in Trenton is down this year 19.4 percent from January to September, compared with that period in 2017, according to the Department of Law and Public Safety.
While interning at a Trenton nonprofit this summer, city native and college student Bianca Randolph led a youth summit, along with new Mayor Reed Gusciora, where teenagers and young adults expressed safety concerns about future Trenton events.
"It's not that they don't want to go to any of those events," she said. "It's just that they were kind of afraid to go. Growing up, there's a few things that we did to keep us away from everything that was going on in the neighborhood. But you can't really help, if you live on a corner, to look outside. It's improving. It takes one day at a time. Nothing's going to change overnight. I feel like the city just needs a little help."
Kuzemka, who has been running the flea market since 2013 and in the Roebling building since 2014, thinks the weekend event will show the resilience of the arts community and the city.
Kuzemka is a self-described "punk" who saw his first show at City Gardens, Trenton's now-defunct music venue that once hosted some of the biggest names in the industry, like Nirvana, Green Day, and the Ramones. He started the flea market after attending several cultural and arts events in the city.
"I thought that doing something where we could bring in vendors who were making things with their hands, like creative and vintage items, might be a hit in the area," he said.
And he was right. His first flea market drew more than 2,000 people to downtown Trenton.
"At that point we realized we had lightning in a bottle," he said.
Since then, he's hosted 20 events. He's even brought in drummer Marky Ramone, who appeared at the flea market to sign autographs and take photos last April.
Kuzemka said this weekend's event will be his biggest, with more vendors, food trucks, and projected attendees. He said he's been meeting with the mayor's office and the police to make sure he has "the proper amount [of] security for this event, and every event in Trenton moving forward."
"The artists that are working here and trying to help a city like Trenton rebuild itself based on the arts, it's unparalleled," said Kuzemka. "There are other cities that have been able to pull this off quicker than we have, but we have a lot of boots on the ground. A lot of us work incredibly hard to make sure that we can rebuild a city that we all love through the arts and being creative. The face that we all believe in that and have continued to do it for so many years speaks volumes for the creative community in Trenton, which is something I'm incredibly proud to be a part of."
The flea market will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in the Roebling building at 675 S. Clinton Ave.
The city of Trenton also hopes to bring back the Art All Night event next year, but whether it will return to the Roebling building is unclear.
There will be a city-wide Art All Day event on Nov. 3 from noon to 6 p.m. in which the public can visit artists and galleries and view exhibitions throughout Trenton. The event will be hosted by Artworks.
"We have a lot of work to do with our own community, and with keeping what we have going," said Artworks director Lauren Otis. "Art All Day is the best way to illustrate that. … It really showcases the depth and breadth of the arts community. … It's a city full of creative people, committed people and resilient people."