HILLSVILLE, Va. — Come to Hillsville just about any other weekend of the year and one will find a nice but laid-back town of just a few thousand folks.
But come to Hillsville on Labor Day weekend — usually the first weekend in September — and one will find that sleepy little town has become a bustling metropolis of flea market and gun show sellers and buyers half a million strong.
The flea market will be held from Friday until Monday this weekend. The hours are Friday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Monday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
VFW Post 1115 has been sponsoring the Labor Day Gun Show & Flea Market since the late 1960s and it has become one of the biggest events of its type in the state — perhaps in the nation. Pierce Webb, a Laurel Fork native, had retired to Florida and he developed a hobby for collecting and trading guns. Early in 1967, he visited his friend, Glenn Jackson, also a native of Laurel Fork.
This was shortly after the original Post Home collapsed under snow and ice.
Webb told Jackson that gun shows are popular down south and he wanted to see one started right here in Carroll County. Gene Pack, the Hillsville police chief, liked the idea and discussed it often, as did Dennis Quesenberry, a serious collector of fine guns. Jackson, a member of the VFW, knew that the Post was hard-pressed for funds to meet monthly obligations, much less pay for a new Post Home, still under construction. He thought that maybe a gun show, being new to the area, might bring in some extra money. Pack offered his assistance for security and traffic control, so they approached the Post membership with the idea and it was approved. Jackson — who still is active with the Gun Show & Flea Market each year — agreed to do the planning and promotion for the first show although he had never attended anything like this before.
Jackson advised the kitchen committee to prepare for at least 2,000 visitors that he expected to attend. They were overwhelmed when twice that many showed up. Members had to scrounge around the county and adjoining towns to find enough food and drink to satisfy the hungry crowd.
After the second year, the show outgrew the space inside the VFW hall and the outdoor flea market was added to accommodate the overflow. The rest is history. During the last decade, the outdoor flea market space was increased nearly 50 percent with the addition of the upper lot at the top of the hill way behind the VFW hall.
The VFW Labor Day show, now the largest single event in Carroll and surrounding counties, did not just happen. A lot of people worked long hours in bringing it to the current point. And they continue working long hours before, during and after the event. But the men of Post 1115 and the Ladies of the Auxiliary enjoy this culmination of coming together with hard work. Money realized from the show keep the Post in operation for the entire year, and a lot of the money that is taken in is returned to the community in the form of donations to many civic groups and individuals in need.
Andy Bowman, a U.S. Navy veteran, has been the VFW’s Memorial Day Festival manager for several years now and this will be his first year as full-time flea market manager. He bids welcome to all the vendors and visitors during this special weekend.
Coordinating the gun show inside the VFW building ever since its second year has been Melvin Webb, capably assisted by his wife, Glendon, and his family and staff. Melvin has announced this will be his last gun show as manager as he will “retire” at the close of the event, Sept. 5. Howard Minton has been chosen by the VFW membership as the next gun show manager and he will work beside Webb this year to learn the procedures. Minton also stays busy as the kitchen manager during the flea market.