Closing of Miami flea market angers buyers, sellers

 

With the closing of the weekend flea market to permit construction of a casino at the Flagler dog track at the end of May, longtime vendors say they will have no place to go.

 

MAY 16, 2009: Orlando Gay has been a vendor at the Flagler Flea Market for years. ROBERTO KOLTUN	 /	 EL NUEVO HERALD

MAY 16, 2009: Orlando Gay has been a vendor at the Flagler Flea Market for years. ROBERTO KOLTUN / EL NUEVO HERALD

(MIAMI HERALD)   For the past 26 years, it has been the perfect place to stretch one’s budget.

 

There, you can fill your suitcases with goods to take to relatives in Cuba. You can buy fine tools, fresh fish and original handicrafts at reasonable prices, while strolling from booth to booth, propelled by a human tide that never goes home empty-handed.

On May 31, Miami will lose one of its most popular weekend attractions, and hundreds of small merchants will be left literally out on the street.

The flea market at the Flagler dog track, 401 NW 38th Ct., Miami, is shutting down.

”We have worked on days when the rainwater rose up to our knees, but we never chose to go somewhere else because this is the best flea market in Miami,” said Enrique Rincón, a Colombian who sells domestic appliances. “Now what?”

Some merchants, like Eduardo de Hogues, lament the fact the flea market is closing. The recent lifting of travel and remittances to Cuba — including the sending of packages — has sent sales skyrocketing.

”This flea market provides a very important service to the community,” said José Martínez, a shopper. “One can find 20 little things for one’s family — and for one’s relatives in Cuba, too.”

The West Flagler Association, owner of Flagler Greyhound Racing & Poker, where the flea market sets up shop Saturdays and Sundays, will begin work on construction of a casino with slot machines June 1.

”Progress is encouraging, no question about it, but when you step on the weak to move ahead, it can be the ugliest act of all,” said Jorge García, who sells clothing for teens.

VOTED FOR CASINO

In January 2008, García mobilized relatives, friends and other merchants to vote in a special election to permit the installation of gambling machines at parimutuel facilities in Miami-Dade County.

Representatives of the West Flagler Association had convinced them that the massive inflow of money to the casino would guarantee the existence of the flea market, where about 400 merchants sell their wares.

”We were cruelly deceived,” García said.

The eviction order arrived in early May.

But according to Scott Savin, the dog track’s spokesman and manager, no commitment had been made to ensure the flea market’s continued operation.

”I know they are worried because they have no place to go, but we have offered them several options, such as moving to the Bargain Town Flea Market [in Homestead],” Savin said.

The merchants “don’t understand that it is a question of the safety of the vendors and their clients. It would be much too dangerous to keep the flea market open while construction is ongoing.”

`LOW BLOW’

None of the merchants interviewed by El Nuevo Herald believes the flea market will reopen its doors.

”To me, it was a low blow,” Rincón said. “I really feel that they used me.”

Rincón, 59, his wife and son have spent almost a decade selling merchandise at the flea market. Sales bring in about $4,000 a month. From that amount, they must deduct taxes and the $220 monthly rent. The market’s closing, amid a global economic crisis, means ”an avalanche of adverse situations” for his family, he says.

On Wednesday, the merchants took their protest to Miami City Hall. Commissioner Tomás Regalado lamented that the dog track’s owners did not give the merchants an extension so they could find an alternate site.

”It is our district, so I have taken a very proactive stance in this case,” said Regalado, who is running for mayor. “Now they’re negotiating a plot of land between LeJeune and Northwest Ninth Street. The project is well on its way.”

ALTERNATIVES

Apparently, a group of merchants will try to set up shop on that land. Others plan to go the Bargain Town in Homestead.

”Many will relocate here,” said René Infante, owner of Bargain Town. “I believe 50 merchants will come down but I hope more will.”

To flea market shoppers, none of these solutions is satisfactory. Alvarina Castro, who was shopping for inexpensive foods on a Saturday with her daughter, said the flea market’s disappearance will mean the end of a park with a familiar accent.

”It’s a space not only for shopping but also for entertainment for people of all ages,” she said.

“It is a clean, orderly and safe market.”

Orlando Gay, one of the flea market’s longest established merchants, said he will see how the situation develops before choosing the path most to his advantage.

”It is difficult to make a hurried decision when street trade is so bad,” Gay said, “particularly when you’ve grown accustomed to a place that is part of your life.”

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