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After six decades, drive-in flea market to close

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The North Fort Myers Drive-in was among the first real go-to attractions in the area and, when it wasn’t showing movies, it was the place to go to buy produce, artwork, clothing and hunt for bargains at the Wednesday flea market.

On Wednesday, after nearly 60 years and a full 25 after it stopped showing movies, the North Fort Myers Flea Market will open for the final time, as the property where the drive-in used to sit is reportedly set to become the home of an RV and boat storage facility.

The Wednesday flea market will move to a new location, the Shell Factory, where many of its vendors have space at both locations.

Kenny Johns, manager of the market, said the flea markets started there in 1962, five days a week, and he would go and buy things there for many years before he started selling things there on his own in 1992.

Johns lived across the woods when the drive-in theater opened in 1948, when he was 5 years old.

“When they started, they put a white tarp up connected to a light pole. You could sit at your house and watch the movie backwards because you could see the other side of it,” Johns said.

During season, it could be very difficult to find parking as people would arrive at the 6 a.m. open (when it was still dark) to get a head start on the best deals. By noon, the place would be nearly empty.

“It was the only flea market open on Wednesday. The others on Ortiz and Fleamasters were closed. We had sheriff deputies directing traffic on the highway,” John said. “It was a tremendous draw up until the pandemic, where we closed for a month.”

John said they had 200-plus vendors during season and roughly 100 during the summer months. Those vendors will now come to the Wednesday market that Johns will manage along with Richard Dunmire, who manages the flea markets at the Shell Factory the other three days on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“Kenny will run the Wednesday market exactly the way he did over there because it was so successful and people were used to it,” Johns said. “We want to keep that going.”

Johns’ system had those who paid monthly and regularly got first dibs on the best locations, usually the same one they had for years. The rest set up at any locations that remained.

“It was a tradition. It was North Fort Myers like the Shell Factory and later the bowling alley. I know we have to move on but I feel bad it’s going to be here,” Dunmire said.

The loss of the drive-in was sad for some.

Pete Teklak, who sold items there before settling at the Shell Factory, said he has a lot of vendor friends who work there and that it was just a sign of progress.

“I know it’s sad. Of course, it’s the end of an era because anything that’s been open 60 years feels like that, but this whole country is changing and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Teklak said.​​​​​


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Gold Rush Antique and Flea Market returns for 52nd year

The Gold Rush Antique and Flea Market returned to the Olmsted County Fairgrounds for its 52 year on May 10-12.

The event had nearly 1,000 vendors from all over the state and country, who came to sell their unique collections to the Rochester community.

Sellers had a variety of vintage and modern art, clothes, music and more — in hopes of catching the eye of a buyer looking for a unique piece for their own collections.

“I’ve always felt that variety is probably a good way to go, so I don’t specialize in anything, I try to have a variety,” Mark Laufenberg, antique seller, said.

The show draws people from all over, which is the reason the producer of the show has kept it going for so many years.

“There’s so many people who collect history, and they’ll buy historical autographs, historical pictures, historical weapons, everything in the civil war and it’s really a pleasure to own them,” Richard Townsend, Gold Rush producer, said.​

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Don-Wes Flea Market reopening after devastating fire


Months after a fire nearly destroyed the Don-Wes Flea Market, vendors are now preparing to welcome people back.

The flea market announced they’re holding a soft opening on Saturday, October 15 before fully reopening on Saturday, November 12.

The flea market has been around for 26 years, it caught fire on July 16.

The Hidalgo County Fire Marshal said the cause of the fire was ruled as “undetermined.”

For owners Debbie and Jim Fitzgerald, the flea market represented their livelihood, as well as that of the vendors who set up shop there.

"We're still in the clean-up process, we've got a lot of rubble to clean up, but we're getting there," Jim Fitzgerald said.

The owners waited until the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal gave them the go-ahead to start rebuilding.

“It's like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes,” Debbie Fitzgerald said.  

The fire ruined most of the 26,000 square feet lot, affecting most of the local vendors who live behind the market. 

Some vendors were able to salvage their RV homes.

There are also plans to add air-conditioned cafés and restaurants to the market.

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