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Hispanic flea market reopens with music and smiles in southeast Charlotte

A girl browsing jewelry
Nick de la Canal
Brittany Huysmans, 6, inspects a bracelet display at the Central Flea Market's new location on Galleria Boulevard on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

After more than nine months without a permanent home, the Central Flea Market reopened Saturday in a new spot near Matthews, attracting dozens of vendors who said they were happy to have a place to do business again.

Music floated across the parking lot at 1720 Galleria Bivd. as groups of kids screamed and hollered their way down a bouncy slide. The sugary smell of churros drifted from a food truck as families and groups of friends browsed stalls selling secondhand clothes, jewelry, cultural items, toys and other gadgets.

At one stall, a man bent down and peered closely into some plastic aquariums where baby turtles basked in shallow, sunlit water. After a few questions — "What do they eat? How big do they get?" — he pulled out his wallet and bought two. Minutes later, another man walked up and bought a third.

"Today is already good," said the stall's owner, Lily Dong, as she pocketed the money. "In five minutes, I already sold three (turtles). I feel really good."

She arrived around 6 a.m. that morning with about 30 other vendors to set up. Dong said she was happy to see familiar faces among the vendors, some of whom she hadn't seen since February.

That was when the city of Charlotte told vendors they could no longer set up on the old Eastland Mall site on Central Avenue, where the market had been operating since 2015, amidst plans to build new retail, offices, apartments and a public park there.

Vendors can stay for the next two years

After the vendors were ejected from the Eastland Mall site, Hector Vaca with Action NC said he helped organize a group called the Central Market Association. They began searching for a new space.

Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari helped them find and lease the new location on Galleria Boulevard. Local tech entrepreneur and former Republican city council candidate Charlie Mulligan helped broker a deal with the parking lot's owner, Daniel Levine.

The parking lot is located across the street from the Galleria Village apartments, and Vaca said Levine had agreed to give the vendors access to the lot every weekend for the next two years.

"So the vendors can sleep soundly, they can relax, because they have a place to work for the next two years," Vaca said.

Vendors pay $10 for the equivalent of two parking spots per day. They can sell their food and items every Saturday and Sunday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

'We lost a lot of money'

Several vendors at the market Saturday said they were pleased with the new site. Returning vendor Leticia Olmedo sold churros, tacos, corn on the cob and more from her food truck, "El Churro del 8," parked in the corner of the lot.

She said she had been a part of the Central Market since 2020, and lost a considerable amount of income after the market lost its Central Avenue site in February.

"We lost a lot of money. I'm in a little debt," she said. "I lose a lot of customers because they don't know where we are."

She said she tried driving to other flea markets, as well as setting up her truck at gas stations and even a local church. But business was never as good, and she missed the Central Market community.

Olmedo said she was encouraged by the line of customers that formed at her truck around lunchtime. She said she hoped the new location would draw back more of the 100 or so vendors who used to fill the Central Avenue site.

Vaca said he expected more vendors to rejoin the market in the coming weeks, and said the revived market was a good example of how communities can organize and advocate for themselves.

"You need to say something if you want to get something," Vaca said. "This is a beautiful example of what happens when you band together. Community makes a difference."

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal