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Flea market opens Friday in Hillsville

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Staff Report

HILLSVILLE — This weekend’s annual Labor Day Flea Market & Gun Show will transform Hillsville from a quiet town of 3,000 to one of the largest retail venues in the Southeast during the four-day holiday weekend.

The event runs from Friday to Monday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.

The number of vendors of new, used and collectible stuff nearly equals the number of town residents — and attracts an estimated crowd of around half a million shoppers.

Just two miles from Interstate 77, shoppers can find virtually everything — old, kitsch, useful or totally useless.

The show is considered to be the largest of its kind in the South and east of the Mississippi.

A wide variety of treats are also available. The smell of barbecued chicken, corn dogs, pizza, Thai food and hot grease for the fries and blooming onions hangs in the air.

Hamburgers sizzle on the grills, popcorn pops in kettles, and backfiring hit-and-miss engines whip up old-fashioned ice cream. Amusements for kids are available, too.

And people crowd onto the sidewalks and spill out into the street hunting bargains. So many people that the local school system has to shut down on Friday because buses just can’t get through.

All this from an event that started in 1967 as an indoor fund-raiser with just a few vendors to help finance a new Veterans of Foreign Wars post on East Stuart Drive.

The post home had collapsed that winter under a load of snow and ice. Laurel Fork native Pierce Webb, retired to Florida, had developed a gun collecting and trading hobby.

He shared the idea of a gun show and sale, popular in the South, with his friend Glenn Jackson, a VFW member. Police Chief Gene Pack endorsed the idea and Dennis Quesinberry, a local gun collector, also agreed to get behind it. Jackson expected about 2,000 visitors that first year — but the show attracted twice that number.

In 2003, the flea market won the Blue Ridge Travel Association’s special events award.

The Grover King VFW still hosts gun dealers inside the post and multiple flea marketers on its ample grounds, but the event has swallowed the town whole and spread far beyond the VFW post. The VFW charges a small entry fee to the building and grounds.

Money the post raises from the flea market goes toward its operations. And much is returned to the community through donations to civic groups and people in need of help.

Two large cattle pastures — belonging to the Hundley and the Bowman families — added to the area available for vending. Twenty years ago vendors and shoppers had to work around the cow pies. Now flea market revenue is the prime source of income from the land.

Residents along Main Street rent out their yards to vendors and those along the side streets rent out theirs for parking.

Green lawns are a thing of the past after four days of pedestrian traffic.

The booths stretch from the stoplight at Main Street to the Bowman Festival lot — almost a mile of shopping pleasure.

Parking can be found from Interstate 77 to Main Street.

Motorists who don’t want to attend the flea market can skirt the area by taking advantage of the U.S. 58 Hillsville Bypass.

Pets are not allowed, so you’ll have to make other arrangements for your furry friends.

If you want to stay nearby, get a reservation early — or try outlying towns such as Wytheville or Mount Airy, N.C.