We can’t hide the character of our city

By Andy Winemiller - [email protected]

Flea markets represent the American entrepreneurial spirit at its most basic level. People assemble to sell stuff. There’s little regulation in it and no uniformity. That’s part of the beauty in such a place.

I’m not a huge fan of them. I usually buy a bunch of junk, and that move risks me getting in trouble for bringing more junk into a home which is already busting at the seams.

However, I have been to the one here in Mount Airy. I found it not unlike flea markets everywhere else I’ve been. It’s simply a venue which affords a whole bunch of people an opportunity to sell their stuff without the overhead of a storefront on Main Street.

It’s a little dirty, and I’m sure some city planner somewhere would call it an eyesore. That’s part of the root of a controversy brewing over the flea market here in town.

I often refer to the professionals who might sneer their noses at such a venue as “the Crayola guys.”

Local governments everywhere employ Crayola guys. I remember them coming into my office to show a picture and say, “This is how downtown should look.” They usually lack interest in the plan’s actual effects on residents or business owners, as their job is to make things look nice.

It’s a neat concept. We can draw the perfect, picturesque community, and then pump millions of dollars into an effort to make the drawing come true. Then all the businesses and the tourists will flock to us. However, it’s a flawed way of confronting an issue, as it often sets aside the needs of those residents most affected.

Lately, the flea market here in town has come under fire, with folks concerned about its appearance and operations.

I ask what changed? My understanding is it has been in operation for quite some time. Maybe I overlooked it, but I think a family member may have been on to something with a revelation made the other day.

“Just because they build a greenway there doesn’t mean they should go after the flea market,” said this family member.

It makes sense now. In somebody’s vision for Mount Airy, such an unsightly venue, with differing structures, rusty stock and maybe even a few fleas, just doesn’t fit into the Crayola drawing that should surround such a project.

I would argue it fits quite well and helps to tell the story of a city recovering from an economic recession.

It is my understanding that Surry County once had an economy driven by a thriving textile industry and furniture industry. Where I come from, it was the automotive and steel industries which propped up the economy. You can insert whatever industry you’d like, but the story is the same.

Once everybody had their shift at the local factory. These were jobs which didn’t necessarily pave the way to riches, but they did put food on the table. They were livable wages, and most folks were able to retire with a decent pension.

The world has changed since those times, however. It’s now a much more diversified economy. Many people don’t look to the large corporation for their paycheck any longer. Instead, it’s a world of opportunistic business ventures, with folks trying to turn a buck and make a dime wherever and whenever they are able to do so.

For some, that might be selling what others deem “junk” at an “eyesore.”

Mount Airy is filled with these sorts of people. They are usually honest, hard-working people trying to feed a family, pay the rent or whatever it may be. The diversity of what our community offers is part of its natural character. Sometimes it might not be pretty, but we can’t redraw our character with colored pencils.

If it just so happens the eyesore has a negative affect on the ambiance of one’s running, cycling or walking experience, then so be it. Perhaps a few bushes so people can’t see the ugly side of Mount Airy could fix the problem.

I’m concerned anytime a local government targets a place which provides revenue for local residents. We can’t trample on local people trying to make a dollar so folks can better enjoy tramping along the greenway.

We also can’t hide the character of our community in hopes of creating the factory-built, perfect, picturesque community. We are what we are. We simply have to rock what we have, and what we have is a quaint community filled with good, hard-working people, some of whom choose to do business at a local flea market.


By Andy Winemiller

[email protected]

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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