When two of South Augusta Flea Market's nine buildings burned to the ground Nov. 26, 19 vendors with no insurance lost everything they had.
The damage, however, also extended to the remaining structures and their tenants in the form of sparse holiday crowds.
"This year, I made about one-third what I made last December," vendor Anita Charles said. "I stocked up big in November expecting the rush ... and it just didn't come."
Ms. Charles tried to stimulate sales by setting up a booth at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and she said she found out why business was so poor. It seems the public is confused, she said.
"All these people were coming up to the booth and saying, `Oh, it must really be tough for you now that the flea market has burned down,"' Ms. Charles said. "I guess they must have got it from watching the news. There's this huge misconception that the flea market is gone, but really it was only about one-eighth of it."
The day after the blaze, flea market owner Dusty Rhodes applied for a permit to rebuild. He said the flea market is about 80 percent operational, but has spent no money to advertise it.
"Advertising is very expensive, and, really, it took me 15 years to get to where you could ask someone about the flea market and they know what the devil you're talking about," Mr. Rhodes said.
The flea market's subpar holiday season may have more to do with the weather than with public misconceptions. Cold and wet is a bad combination for outdoor shopping, and Augusta has felt like Seattle the past month or so.
"When you got 35-degree weather and it's drizzling rain, the flea market is dead," Mr. Rhodes said. "So I don't know for sure that the fire hurt business to the degree that some vendors believe."
Besides, business is beginning to pick back up. Mr. Rhodes said traffic was good Dec. 23, and he expects it to get steadily better in the coming weeks.
"The local people have sort of figured it out," Mr. Rhodes said. "Waynesboro and the outlying areas that it took us years to attract may have the perception it's burned down, but word will spread that it isn't."
Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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