Thousands headed to Hillsville for flea market

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Bargain-hunters flock to annual event, the largest of its kind on the East Coast

Staff Report

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

This year’s event will be held Aug. 30-Sept. 2 throughout the Town of Hillsville — from the stoplight at Main Street (U.S. 58/U.S. 52) west to the Bowman Festival lot — almost a mile of bargain-hunting pleasure.

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.

The event started in 1967 as an indoor fund-raiser with just a few vendors to help finance a new home for the Hillsville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1115.

The post home had collapsed that winter under a load of snow and ice. Laurel Fork native Pierce Webb, whose hobby was collecting and trading guns, shared the idea of a fundraising gun show and sale 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 Post still hosts gun dealers inside the post and multiple flea marketers on its 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. 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.

Parking can be found on lots and side streets from Interstate 77 to Main Street; the VFW also has parking.

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

VDOT warns of heavy flea market traffic

Travelers heading to the annual Hillsville Flea Market and Gun Show during Labor Day weekend should be prepared for considerable traffic delays, warns the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

VDOT advises people not attending the flea market and gun show to avoid the area altogether.

Thousands of visitors are expected to converge on a one-mile section of Route 58 Business in Hillsville. “As a result, sidewalks will be crowded with pedestrians and bumper-to-bumper traffic will be moving at a crawl throughout the area,” VDOT said in a news release. “Drivers should use extra caution, watch for police directing traffic and pay attention to electronic message boards in the area.”

VDOT advises travelers of the following traffic information:

• Interstate 77, Exit 14 (Hillsville/Galax)

Those planning to attend the Flea Market and Gun Show are encouraged to take I-77 and use Exit 14 (Hillsville/Galax) onto Route 58 Business. Congestion is expected on I-77 in this area and police may be directing traffic at the Exit 14 and Route 58 Business interchange to promote safe travel. Motorists should watch for stopped vehicles in this area.

• Route 58 Bypass, western interchange with Route 58 Business

Motorists using the Route 58 Bypass’ western interchange to exit onto Route 58 Business should use extreme caution and watch for heavy traffic congestion. Those not attending the event and traveling westbound on the bypass should use the left lane to avoid exiting vehicles. Drivers are advised not to park on the Route 58 Bypass or on the ramps onto Route 58 Business. “No Parking” signs will be posted around the interchange.

• Route 52

Route 52 event traffic can use Route T-780 (Howlett Street) or Route T-1020 (West Grayson Street). Northbound Route 52 traffic will not be permitted to turn left onto westbound Route 58 Business. Southbound Route 52 traffic will not be allowed to make right-on-red turns at the traffic signal onto westbound Route 58 Business.

• West Grayson Street

No left turns will be permitted from Route T-1020 (West Grayson Street) onto eastbound Route 58 Business.

For more information, email fleamarket@groverkingvfw.com or visit groverkingvfw.com. Contact numbers include: Sandra Terry Coble, (276) 728-5237; Town of Hillsville, (276) 728-2128; Bowman’s Field, (276) 728-4340; Hundley’s Field, (276) 728-7172.