Buyers Win, Sellers Win

[imgbelt img=flea-market-boots520.jpg]One sliver-sized sector of the U.S. economy is going strong: flea
markets. You want to get rid of it and I’ve got to have it, n’est-ce


Mike Quick

Come early and stay all weekend — the huge Hillsville Gun Show and Flea Market takes place each Labor Day weekend.

The annual Labor Day Flea Market held at Hillsville, Virginia, is a prime example of small business skills in action.  To understand how and why this event  continues to grow warrants a case study, with input from college experts holding many degrees, but I am not aware of any universities offering MBAs in Flea Market at this time.  Instead, the experts come from Laurel Fork, a rural road barely visible on the Google Earth map. A couple of friends came up with the idea of a local gun show/flea market in the late ’60s as a fundraiser after the VFW Post 1115 home had collapsed under snow and ice. They needed a new facility but there were few funds to build on.  Pierce Webb,  a gun collector/trader, and his friend Glenn Jackson, both of Laurel Fork Road, wanted a local gun show in the area. Hillsville Police Chief Gene Pack thought it was a good idea.  He offered to direct traffic for the event.  Dennis Quesenberry, a serious gun collector in the area, liked the idea as well.  The first gun show/flea market, in 1968, was held inside.  That year the kitchen crew at VFW Post 1115 was told to cook enough to feed, on the high end, around 2000 – more than twice that number showed up.

Members of VFW 1115 Post, the Ladies Auxiliary and others combined forces to make this an annual event, which soon outgrew any facility in Hillsville.  To accommodate vendors, the show moved outside into the streets, in front yards, on the downtown corners, down inclines and up steep little hills — or anywhere else a local property owner will rent enough space for a table, tent, stall or tub.  When I stopped by, the closest parking spot was well outside the city limits.  As I walked up and down the narrow, crowded streets, winding my way in and out of thousands of visitors,  I  found everything from tubs of rubber sandals made in China to treasured local antiques. (And I bought a cookbook with many delicious recipes published by the local Round Knob Baptist Church. )  Food vendors were also hauling it in, feeding the bargain hunters funnel cakes, hot dogs with chili and  slaw, Mexican dishes, and cotton candy.  One vendor from North Carolina explained to me that vending spots are usually contracted a year in advance,  and go for $300.00.  

There is no stopping this recession-proof business.  On Labor Day weekend this small town of Hillsville (pop. 2600), in Carroll County, Virginia, hidden away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reinvents itself as the biggest flea market event this side of the Mississippi.  The town expects to host between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors  during  this year’s four-day Labor Day weekend.