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Marketeers

Chop Suey redefines the yard sale for charity.

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Its flea-market atmosphere is more fanciful than bizarre, but the event, held every three months, has its share of quirks and oddities.

Eyewitnesses recall one woman during the last event hawking homemade stewed tomatoes, presumably from her garden. Handmade baby clothes were the biggest sellers, and the obligatory jewelry stands did well, too. There were funky T-shirts by amateur fashion designers, photos taken by a Washington Post photographer and Polaroid transfers onto handmade paper.

Some items were conceptual. One young woman’s wares … well, you couldn’t tell if they were things she’d made or just salvaged architecture.

It’s “stuff you’d find at a yard sale,” says Chop Suey owner Ward Tefft, “but a cool yard sale.” But then again, he continues, “because most of the stuff is handmade you see things you’d never find at a flea market.”

The first Chop Suey Bizarre Market was held in late July. Vendors were encouraged to donate at least 10 percent of their profits to the Read Center, which also received money from a raffle featuring such prizes as gift certificates to Main Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts gift shop.

Tefft, who co-owns the used- and rare-bookstore with local filmmaker Pat Doyan, says the idea occurred to him after he was approached by an artist named Anna Virginia, who was looking for a place to hold a market. Both say the idea of including a charity element helped make it such as success.

Virginia, a 23-year-old puppeteer and crafts maker, had tried to hold a similar event without the altruistic ingredient at the Hand Workshop, but it flopped. When she approached Tefft she didn’t realize that the Chop Suey event, which ended up raising around $700, would work so well. “I think that people can really get behind the fact that it goes toward charity,” she says.

The enthusiasm prompted businesses like Betsy’s Coffee Shop in Carytown and the local bakery Billy Bread to donate 100 percent of their sales. “It was a great sense of community,” Tefft says. “I know it sounds hokey, but everyone was having fun, showing off stuff they had made and at the same time raising money. It was sort of like a party almost.”

This time around, Tefft and Virginia have brought in Art 180 as the featured charity, and the group’s connections in the art community have made a big impact. “I’m not going to say twice the vendors,” Tefft muses, “but it could be. I think a lot of people are also going to be coming to shop.”

Virginia also sees lots of promise with Art 180. “It’s a giant circle of creativity,” she says of the event. “If we support programs like Art 180, hopefully those children will give back to the community artistically.” S

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