What’s misplaced when a well-liked flea market closes?

MIAMI— That is one of the best time for Claribel Vasquez’s little juice stand on the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market. Kids on summer time trip, thirsty from scampering across the teeming open-air market, purchase creamy coconut smoothies, sugar cane juice splashed with kiwi and pineapple drinks infused with ginger.

In some ways, these youngsters are following in her footsteps — the identical path walked by generations of immigrant households in South Florida.

When Vasquez arrived as a teen to Miami from the Dominican Republic in 1987, she strolled the sprawling cubicles each Sunday along with her aunt, shopping for greens, looking sneakers and snacking on roasted corn. She’d repeat the weekly ritual of visits along with her personal daughters, after which their youngsters, and finally would open her personal small enterprise on the flea market.

“I did not know what a mall was,” stated Vasquez, 51. “This was our mall.”

After practically 4 a long time in operation, the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market is slated to close down on Sept. 30. Its New York-based homeowners have determined to capitalize on its more and more priceless 43 acres of actual property wedged between Hialeah, Miami Lakes and Miami Gardens in northwestern Miami-Dade County.

Some distributors could relocate to a smaller indoor house at a close-by clothes wholesaler, Atlantic Hosiery, however the closure of this large and massively well-liked web site has angered lots of the market’s mom-and-pop enterprise homeowners and is one other signal of the social and financial adjustments wrought by a wave of redevelopment and gentrification throughout South Florida.

With the demise of flea markets that after dotted South Florida, the casual economic system that after helped assist underserved communities shrinks. For a lot of struggling, cash-strapped newcomers from Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, renting a flea-market sales space was the unique aspect gig and the marketplaces offered cheap purchasing choices lengthy earlier than greenback shops have been strip-mall staples.

The place additionally occurs to boast a very memorable and colourful historical past amongst flea markets that after dotted the South Florida panorama — one marked by fierce enterprise wars, political corruption, ties to the Israeli mob, and a catchy TV jingle earworm that burrowed into Miami’s mind within the early Nineteen Nineties.

However the legacy is deeper for numerous folks like Vasquez.

“There’s lots of people who depend upon this place,” Vasquez stated. “For humble folks of humble means, they’re shedding the place the place they arrive to purchase their fruits, to purchase their groceries.”

In a neighborhood that has lengthy been marked by the social tensions amongst newly arriving immigrants, the flea market additionally was maybe the one place the place these tensions went away — it was common for Haitians and Dominican distributors to strike up friendships and enterprise preparations.

“It was a secure house for individuals who might need felt like outsiders elsewhere,” stated Corinna Moebius, a author and cultural anthropologist who has frolicked on the flea market. “There was this sense that distributors have been looking for one another and looking for his or her clients. Extra than simply companies might be misplaced. You are shedding a community of relationships. You are unraveling a cultural security internet.”

Scott Miller, the longtime normal supervisor of the flea market, stated that over time, the distributors have been roughly half Black and Hispanic.

“Our demographics mirrored that of Dade County,” Miller stated. “We have been Miami, at the moment.”

And for these clients and distributors, the flea market additionally afforded one thing else — the power to haggle, he stated.

“The folks locally lose their bargaining energy,” Miller stated of the market’s closing. “Usually, folks aren’t going to stroll into Macy’s and attempt to cut price over a bottle of cologne.”


For a lot of South Floridians, the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market is a spot they could have heard of however by no means really visited. First opened in 1985 at 12705 NW forty second Ave., it’s surrounded by warehouses and much faraway from Miami-Dade’s seashores, nightlife, suburbs and conventional malls and strip malls.

However it’s additionally a bustling place, vibrant with all of the smells and stuff of Miami’s polyglot of cultures offered by greater than 700 distributors. Buyers can get their tires modified, purchase low-cost garments and cookware, cellphones, couches, toys, energy instruments, contemporary fish, all kinds of meals and even roosters and goats for non secular Santería sacrifices — and have a good time by downing beers, consuming a thick cornmeal cake referred to as a pupusa and listening to dwell salsa bands.

For Hispanics, it is referred to as El Pulguero, the flea place. For Haitians, it is the Ti-Mache, or the little market — determined understatement for what was among the many greatest of the flea markets that popped up throughout Dade County within the Nineteen Eighties, an growth fueled by an growing immigrant inhabitants from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Locations just like the Tropicaire Flea Market, on Chicken Highway west of the Palmetto Expressway, featured lots of of cubicles on the positioning of a drive-in movie show. Distributors paid between $7 and $27 per day for areas. It is now a strip mall.

The Worldwide 54th Road Flea Market was within the coronary heart of the predominately Black Brownsville-Liberty Metropolis space, a retail desert, particularly after the outdated Ames division retailer went belly-up.

“We’re near the folks we do enterprise with. That helps,” a supervisor stated in 1990.

Right this moment, the land is dwelling to a Wendy’s quick meals restaurant. The indoor Flea Market USA, additionally within the coronary heart of Liberty Metropolis at 3015 NW 79th St., drew Black clientele from the east, and Hispanics from next-door Hialeah. Yanis Carreto, a author and photographer, lived in a trailer park throughout the road and fondly remembered childhood visits, using the carousel and gawking on the big giraffe close to the meals court docket and the distinct red-white-and-blue checkered flooring.

In 2019, because it was slated to shut after practically 40 years, Carreto returned to take pictures of the dying market, the place folks as soon as received tattoos, haircuts and gold enamel, purchased telephones, gold chains and custom-printed T-shirts.

“Many cubicles have sat closed and deserted for years. Mismatched folding chairs and tables, the likes of these you’d discover in a house, are scattered all through the flea market,” Carreto wrote in her weblog. “Even torn and worn couches line the world surrounding the stage.”

Right this moment, the property is being developed right into a combined residential-retail heart.

The Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market grew to become a touchdown spot for a lot of displaced distributors. Irma Moreau, who sells garments and different items, was pressured there after having to depart Tropicaire and Flea Market USA. She’s exploring a spot at North Miami’s Seventh Avenue Flea Market — however the stalls there are too small to accommodate her stacks and stacks of comforters, bedspreads and ladies’s underwear.

“My retailer is my child,” she stated. “It is not straightforward to seek out one other place.”

There are nonetheless flea markets, after all, the most important being the well-known Swap Store in Lauderhill, 88 acres of market that features a drive-in movie show and even a Ferrari assortment. There’s additionally the hipster selection, just like the tiny Wynwood Market, which hawks gem stones, classic T-shirts and “bohemian items.”

Nonetheless, the pattern line seems to be bleak, with flea markets disappearing throughout the nation. In Florida throughout the previous couple of years, notably because the pandemic ravaged in-person purchasing, longtime flea markets have shuttered in Tampa, Pensacola and St. Augustine.

South Florida just isn’t uncommon, given the rising price of land, the necessity for housing and redevelopment and the rise of on-line retail and adjustments in how folks collect to socialize, stated Maria Ilcheva, of Florida Worldwide College’s Jorge M. Pérez Metropolitan Middle, a assume tank that explores housing and market points.

“It is unavoidable, given the inflow of individuals — beforehand from overseas, and now during the last couple years from different components of the US,” stated Ilcheva, the middle’s assistant director of planning and operations. “From a growth perspective, it might make sense for somebody who owns the land. There’s a variety of stress to redevelop.”

The Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market was bought in 2017 by a New York firm referred to as Gramercy Property Belief, which paid $80 million for the property and signed a brand new cope with the operator to maintain the flea market. Now referred to as Hyperlink Logistics, the corporate is planning to develop the parcels into six new buildings devoted to industrial and logistics use.

A Hyperlink Logistics spokesperson stated the corporate is concentrated on “being a optimistic drive for financial development within the native communities the place we function, and we acknowledge the necessary place the Opa-locka Flea Market holds locally.”

“If authorised, our proposed growth undertaking would characterize greater than $90 million in new funding and generate an estimated 1,000 building jobs and 765 everlasting high-quality jobs for the neighborhood.”

Flea market distributors have been initially given simply three weeks to depart the property, however have since been given a reprieve till Sept. 30, to permit distributors to seek out new locations to go. Atlantic Hosiery, a longtime Opa-locka clothes wholesaler and outlet, is working with town to ascertain an indoor market in its close by headquarters; the operation is predicted to be smaller, with out the dwell music, eating places and animal retailers.


For some companies, the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market opened the door to middle-class success in a brand new homeland.

Distributors like Israel Perez, an immigrant from Cuba, began small. Through the week, Perez delivered meats to markets. His spouse, Esther Perez, labored at a manufacturing unit in Hialeah. However he and his household would gather second-hand instruments and home equipment, promoting at a single stand on the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market within the Nineteen Eighties.

Enterprise finally blossomed, the merchandise filling two dice vehicles. Their shopper base grew to incorporate not simply fellow Cubans, however Haitians and Jamaicans who purchased items for resale on the islands. The household finally operated 4 spots, manned by varied members of the family. His brother, Leon Perez, was in a wheelchair and offered bubble gum to distributors close to the long-lasting archway entrance.

“My brother and I hated it. We have been 11 and 12, and that is the place we might spend our weekends,” stated Mercedes Holtzman, 55, Israel’s daughter. “However it was arduous instances and that is what we needed to do. I bear in mind my brother and I had nice tans and we’d by no means inform anybody we had been working on the flea market.

“It actually gave us a basis for arduous work. And throughout the week, you’d need to restock every thing, go purchase all of the merchandise. And we might need to get there earlier than the solar got here out, and take it down day-after-day. It was 4:30 within the morning to 4:30 within the afternoon.”

Finally, the success of the enterprise allowed Perez, who has since handed away, to purchase his first home in Miami Seaside — and in addition an condominium constructing.

One other vendor, Carlos Rodriguez, 58, a local of Honduras, has spent practically 20 years promoting linens supporting his 4 youngsters. He at present pays $380 per week for a 24-by-24-foot house — and to this point, he hasn’t discovered anyplace that can provide him a comparable deal.

“I believe there are lots of people who will shut down as a result of they’ve nowhere to go,” Rodriguez stated.


For the most recent technology of up-and-coming distributors and the shoppers who want area of interest and low-cost items, the flea market’s closing got here as a shock, even when many companies there hadn’t precisely been thriving.

On a current muggy Sunday afternoon, the flea market hummed with exercise, reggaetón blaring within the background, the muddy parking tons jammed with automobiles. Amongst distributors, rumors have been ripe — some mistakenly believed retail big Amazon was shopping for the land, others that condos would quickly be constructed atop their former stalls.

Moreau and her husband pay $385 per week, and usually simply make sufficient to pay the stall hire. She recalled that when she heard the market was closing, she “was so shocked that my abdomen began hurting. I could not eat, I could not drink.”

However she acknowledged that on-line purchasing and the worldwide pandemic had left her hanging by a thread.

“All people, even my youngsters (are) purchasing on-line,” she stated. “Only some individuals are shopping for within the flea market.”

A number of aisles away, Robert Pelissier, a 71-year-old native of Haiti, rigorously examined pigeons stacked in cages on the small nook lot at Tere Pet Store. Additionally contained in the cages have been roosters, doves and guinea fowl. Eggs and honey from farms have been on the market, as have been beads and incense. The stall largely catered to followers of the Afro-Cuban Santería faith, who purchase birds for sacrificial choices, a standard apply in Miami.

However Pelissier is a fowl fanatic and comes to purchase doves. He implored the stall operator to maintain him knowledgeable on their new location, each time they’ve one. A sound interrupted: “Baaaaaa.”

“I hear goat. You bought goat?” Pelissier requested the worker named Lazaro.

Lazaro, slouched in a rickety rocking chair, smiled. Within the mattress of a pickup truck subsequent to the stall, a younger goat bleated from inside a big canine kennel.

“After all,” Lazaro stated. “We promote every thing.”

On the opposite aspect of the market, Lyz Vasquez, 31, watched as her husband and a stall worker loaded up a black velvet twin measurement mattress of their pickup truck. She’s an everyday right here. Vasquez rushed again to pay the proprietor.

“I really feel dangerous,” she stated of the market’s closing. “Different locations, you do not get the offers such as you do right here. This mattress price me $160. Anyplace else, it might price me $1,000 or $1,500.”

Deep within the inside of the market, Mercedes Egozcue picked by means of males’s polos, two for $12. Each few months, she comes right here to purchase garments, to take again to her native Cuba, some items for household, others to promote, an off-the-cuff however frequent enterprise for newer Cuban immigrants.

“It is an injustice what they’re doing right here,” Egozcue stated, because the store proprietor, Alex Hayek Sr., and his 17-year-old namesake son seemed on.

The Hayek household, which has run this store for 15 years, is not certain the place they’re going to find yourself. Nonetheless, in a show of the entrepreneurial spirit that has lengthy outlined the flea market, Hayek handed her a card together with his telephone quantity on it.

“Come discover my enterprise,” he stated.