HILLSVILLE, Va. — It’s safe to say a flea market becomes an annual event when schools are closed because it permeates the community.
This was exactly the case for the 46th Annual Labor Day Gun Show & Flea Market as it opened for business Friday. The morning was overcast with a cool breeze to offset what was a large number of participants searching for a hot deal.
Quick conversations with show participants as well as vendors indicated the event was equally in the crowd’s hearts as well as pocketbooks. Vendor Jeffery Dotson, a luthier from Castlewood, Va. was one example. Wood said he had been involved with the show and market since 1995. He recalled buying a fiddle, which was in pieces, and afterwards fell in love with repairing instruments.
“I bought that first fiddle here at the flea market, took it home and repaired it,” said Dotson. “I put it together and became so interested I read up on them. Later I sold that violin for $800. I bought it for $50. I’m always on the lookout for musical instruments and tools. It (working with wood) puts me at peace. I bought a lot of tools from long-time market vendor Frank February when he decided to retire.”
Local resident Sherri Bobbitt, who moved to Memphis, Tenn., 30 years ago, returned to the show with her 6-year-old, Breeze. The two appeared comfortable perched on a curb, eating ice cream and watching the crowds move past.
“I remember what this meant for me when I was a little girl and I kept telling Breeze about it,” said Bobbitt. “She kept asking me what is it and I told her she would know once she had seen it.”
Two other 18-year veteran people watchers of the Flea Market & Gun Show are Ellie and Bob Kosch of the Mountain View Kettle Korn Co. The motto for the couple’s business is “Old Kettle Sweet Taste.” Ellie Kosch said the two had seen the popcorn franchise and simply fell in love with the business. They also had their own ideas about improving the recipe.
“We absolutely love to see the people,” said Ellie Kosch. “We have a lot of support from our family and friends at these events which have become like family. We’ve watched families grow.”
Bob Kosch is known for his tall hats, which he admits began as a gimmick to draw attention to their booth. The two say they have been at the trade so long they have worn out all but one of the hats which Bob wears.
“These hats are history now,” said Bob Kosch. “We just can’t find them anymore. We don’t know what we’ll do when this one runs out.”
Ellie Kosch jokingly suggested either shooting Bob or seriously considering retirement. She said the two also have a lot of fun seeing what people, especially at the Hillsville event, buy. They said some items are so bizarre they have to stop walkers and ask them what they had bought. They said there’s a lot of the strategies for a vendor at the Hillsville show. Each vendor has his own plan for getting the perfect spot.
Two-time Post Commander for the show’s founding group, Grover King Post 1115 VFW, Don Dobbins said the market and show remains a critical way to raise funds for the VFW so it can help veterans and their families. He said the show, which began in 1967, has grown every year with a total of 2,750 paying vendors participating in some years, bringing in more than $50,000 for the post.
“Every cent we take in that is not used for our expenses for this goes to the community,” said Dobbins. “It allows us to do a lot of things at no charge to families and survivors. We sometimes have had three to four military honors funerals a week we participate in and we provide color guards and flags at each school. That’s the part I love. The principals say I can talk to the kids on their level. I think that’s because I remember what kids lived with then. We all go through the same things.” Dobbins said the group is hard hit by the deaths of many WWII veterans and Vietnam veterans who are younger, but suffered from exposure to Agent Orange.
Hillsville’s Family Shoe Store Owner Glenn Jackson is known among VFW members as the “father” of the Hillsville Gun Show and Flea market.
“I promoted this event from Texas to Florida for its first 20 years,” said Jackson. He said the idea sprang from the then struggling local VFW group as a way to survive. “When we started it was just for guns, knives, coins and engine relics.” He said he remembers having a glassware vendor on the outside of the VFW building one year and more spots began to be taken as the event continued to grow. It even reached a point where he felt he might as well have a booth to sell shoes himself. It is in the same spot this year it has been from the start of the festival.
He said looking back the only thing he is concerned about (other than not spending a little more time promoting his shoe store) is vendor spaces becoming too expensive.
“The only thing I regret is the greed it (the show) has generated,” said Jackson. ” When we started we wanted everyone to make a profit and have repeat customers. I am concerned the cost keeps some from participating and that is what could finally hurt the show.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.