Hispanic flea market pushed from Eastland searches for new home | WFAE 90.7

For years, the old Eastland Mall site in east Charlotte was the center of their business, but now more than 100 flea market vendors are searching for a new space after getting pushed out by development.

The Central Flea Market — previously known as the Open Air Flea Market — had been a weekend mainstay on the city-owned lot off Central Avenue since at least 2015, bringing color, music and life to the empty, cracked pavement where the old Eastland Mall had once stood. The market leased the space from the city on a temporary basis.

Many of the vendors were Hispanic and played Latin music, and they sold fresh fruits and vegetables, clothes, toys and electronics, and freshly cut coconuts.

But in February, vendors were told they would have to leave to make way for the new “Eastland Yards” development that will transform the empty lot with new apartments, office space, retail and a public park.

The city has promised to help the flea market find a new space, and although some alternatives have been proposed, the vendors say nothing has been agreed on.

The vendors have formed a group with help from local advocacy group Action NC, and say they plan to vote as a group on any proposed solution.

To learn more about where the market might go, WFAE’s Nick de la Canal spoke with longtime vendor Claudia Garcia, who is helping to lead the vendors in their search for a new space.

Nick de la Canal: I understand the flea market had been leasing this site from the city since 2015. That’s a long time. What can you tell us about the people who became vendors at the market?

Claudia Garcia: Well, the vendors, I can tell you — it’s a lot of diverse cultures, different countries. There’s a lot of different products that they offer to customers. We are family.

De la Canal: Did these vendors — had they been coming out for a long time? Were some of these people there for years?

Garcia: Yeah. It’s a lot of people that started with me in 2015.

De la Canal: So when the vendors were told they had to vacate the site in February, how did that impact you guys? And how have you been impacted?

Garcia: Oh, a lot. A lot. Like, they lose a lot of sales. They lose customers. They lose a lot of money, because there are many like me. I depended on my business on the flea market, and I needed to shut down my business because I don’t have a place for selling right now.

De la Canal: Do you have other sources of income? Other ways that you’re making money right now?

Garcia: I work for two months, but I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like that’s what I want to do, because I love what I’m doing before. I love being at the flea market, I love and enjoy my customers, I love being there every weekend, see a lot of people with the different countries, different cultures. I love the food, I love everything, and I really miss it.

De la Canal: I know that there have been some alternative sites that have been proposed. I wanted to ask about one site that’s been proposed by Republican City Councilman Tariq Bokhari. He first said that the market could be set up for a weekend in uptown. This was back in July. And now he says he’s found a site on Galleria Boulevard near Matthews that could be a permanent location. The market could get an 18 to 24 month lease for free for this space. What are your thoughts on that?

Garcia: I’ll be honest, today is my first day I want to go see the place. People (on) the board, they want to go see, they want to (talk) about it. I can’t tell you right now what is my opinion because I (haven’t) seen the place already.

De la Canal: Okay. We also learned this month that the company owned by David Tepper — he’s the billionaire owner of the Carolina Panthers — pulled out of the Eastland project, and that, I guess, leaves behind some empty space. Would you guys prefer to go back to your original space, if that was an option?

Garcia: Oh yeah. A hundred — no a thousand percent. Yeah, because the Central Avenue is where (there’s a concentration) of more business for us. There’s no better place for us.

De la Canal: As you mentioned, the vendors have formed a board now, and you’ve all formed a group to make this decision together. How will you go about making this decision where you go next?

Garcia: They do a meeting the next week and everyone votes who agrees with the place. Everybody needs to vote to be agreed or not.

De la Canal: And what is your biggest hope moving forward?

Garcia: I hope that people will be agreed to take the space — that one or if not, they need to find another one. Everyone needs to be all together, start work seriously, because (they’ve lost) almost a year already in sales.

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