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VOL. 118 | NO. 5 | Thursday, January 8, 2004

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Hunt will go on for entrepreneurs, bargain hunters

Flea Market Prepares for Post-Fire Event

The show goes on for entrepreneurs, bargain hunters


The Daily News

For more than 30 years, thousands of entrepreneurs have peddled their wares to throngs of devoted bargain hunters at the monthly flea market held at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

Thus, not even the fiery demise last month of a building containing vendor merchandise will impede The Big Ones future.

Randa Kahn, general manager of American Park N Swap a company contracted by the city of Memphis and the fairgrounds since 1980 to organize and operate the markets called the loss of the 81-year-old Shelby County Building Dec. 20 unbelievable.

Regrouping. Support and enthusiasm continues to be expressed by vendors, she said. Meanwhile, organizers are exploring ways to help compensate for lost merchandise.

The Big One will relocate vendors who would have set up shop in the Shelby County Building to the Mid-South Coliseum, and the next flea market will proceed as scheduled Jan. 17-18. A shuttle will transport customers to and from the coliseum and the Pipkin, Youth and Agriculture buildings, which are also used during the events.

As far as the fire goes, we will get through this together and hopefully come out of it even stronger, Kahn said.

Browsing bonanza. East Memphis resident Leslie Andrews has visited The Big One at the fairgrounds two or three times each year since buying a small desk for her home at the event about three years ago. Though she hasnt bought anything as substantial as a piece of furniture since, she said the hunt for bargains is a rewarding challenge.

I have bought a few things for around the house, like a set of bowls and some decorative pictures of food for my kitchen, Andrews said. I dont always buy something, but I usually find things I consider buying.

There is no admission fee for the flea market, but parking costs $2.

Andrews said the market is fun to visit because its a different way of shopping, and you dont feel pressured like you often can in department stores.

Kahn said an increased number of department stores in the mainstream marketplace has ensured the success of flea markets everywhere.

You just dont see the unique stuff you see at a flea market in a department store, she said. That makes flea markets a stronger attraction.

Traveling business. Kahn described The Big One as an institution.

We see people on a regular basis. For many of the vendors, Memphis is part of their circuit, she said, pointing to repeat vendors from 11 states.

The third weekend of every month except December, when its held twice The Big One hosts about 200 vendors who sell items big and small, cheap and expensive to an average of 20,000 bargain hunters.

Average cost to rent an indoor booth is about $70.

Its a wonderful opportunity for someone who wants to own his or her own business, Kahn said. Theres not much overhead and you get to present your product to thousands of customers over a two-day weekend.

Memphians David and Lynda Weaver, owners of Antiques and Estate Jewelry, set up shop at flea markets year-round, one as far away as Iowa. Lynda Weaver said she has sold goods at flea markets for 25 years, but has been attending them even longer.

I was raised by a family of pack rats and have been going to flea markets from the time I could walk, she said. Its still fun.

Weaver said it took a little less than a year for her booth at The Big One to become lucrative.

Repeat customers. Vendors have become increasingly dependent upon repeat customers for profits, Weaver said, adding that the product mix at markets has changed over the years.

There are fewer antiques, but theres a lot of duplication of other merchandise, she said. And the crowd has changed. You still have the hard-core, old-time antique buyers, but not as many. Now its more amusement for customers, while formerly it was a treasure hunt.

Kahn said the markets sustain solid traffic throughout the year, but are busiest during the fall. Weaver added that her booths do the most business from October to Christmas. Visual impact. Vicki Breaux, owner of Childrens Wearhouse in Adamsville, Tenn., said profits often depend on the amount of effort a vendor is willing to put into displaying merchandise, adding that competition from other vendors can be fierce.

Its definitely hard work and a challenge to set it up, she said. You have to bring the public to you.

Kahn said vendors tend to be street smart, and they pay attention to trends.

They are savvy and their products are mixed with changes, she said. They keep things exciting and keep up with the changes in customers tastes.

Future growth. Kahn said the future of the flea market appears solid, and its organizers hope for growth.

Right now, were looking at options for additional space here at the fairgrounds, she said.


PROPERTY SALES 51 180 16,377
MORTGAGES 21 57 10,144
BUILDING PERMITS 103 665 39,209
BANKRUPTCIES 31 107 7,704