Dozens of immigrant and US-born small business owners face eviction as Mebane continues to grow • NC Newsline

The Buckhorn Road Flea Market off of Interstate 85 near Mebane in Alamance County was mostly empty Tuesday morning, a day after the Mebane City Council approved annexation and rezoning requests to pave the way for a R+L Carriers truck terminal to be built on the site.

A former security guard busied himself removing a large, wooden sign from the entrance. A handful of vendors loaded trucks and vans with an assortment of goods purchased to sell over the summer.

The vendors must have structures and goods removed by August 15, a date agreed upon by the buyer and seller at Monday’s Mebane City Council meeting. Earlier, a July 15 date had been set for the goods to be removed.   

On Tuesday, Charlotte Miller, 84, took a moment away from packing to reflect on her four-decade run selling tools and other goods at the weekend flea market that opened for 41 years ago. It affectionately became known to patrons and vendors alike as Little Mexico and La Pulga, which is Spanish for “The Flea.”   

Most vendors received a flyer June 15 alerting them that flea market would close for good on June 30. Miller, who lives in Yadkin County, said she only learned last Wednesday that she’d have to move.

“Granted, it’s theirs to sell and do with it what they want, but we have supported this thing all of these years and so much of this is livelihood for these people,” Miller said. “They could have treated us better.”

empty flea market stalls
Buckhorn Road Flea Market closed on June 30. (Photo: Greg Childress)

Miller said she recently spent $5,000 on new product just ahead of learning that the flea market would close.

“It’s OK with me, at my age, I need to get out,” she said. “My husband died last September, but I love the people and it [the flea market] has always been good to us. It’s more like family than anything else.”

Miller’s grandson, she said, has agreed to build a website to help sell the remaining goods.

Bonifacio Ocampo was also at the flea market on Tuesday packing up. He said he was mostly unbothered by the flea market’s closure.

“I’m moving to the flea market in Winston [Salem],” Ocampo said. “For me, it’s OK, I don’t have any problem [with the flea market closing.]”

Others on site said there has been talk about a new flea market opening in nearby Green Level.

The flea market’s demise comes in a county in which Latino residents have long struggled for acceptance and fair treatment. On Monday, a large group of Latino vendors, many of them speaking through interpreters, packed the Mebane City Council meeting to ask for an extra three months to sell their wares and to find new flea markets before the owner closed the Buckhorn site. For many of them, the flea market was their only source of income, they said.

“The vendors at the flea market, we go by the seasons,” said Brenda Rodriquez of Winston-Salem. “When it’s starting to get cold, we buy for the winter. When it’s starting to get warm, we buy for the whole summer. I’m just asking for more time to sell what we already have on hand.”

Rodriquez told the council that she’s been a flea market vendor for 16 years and raised two daughters with the money she made at there.

She questioned why the trucking firm wants the flea market property when there appears to be so many others suitable sites for a truck depot.

Marco Antonio Vega told the council that thousands of people rely on the flea market for their livelihoods.

“We are here just to ask for an extra three months,” said Vega, who has run a business at the flea market for 25 years. “We know it’s not our land and that the land has been basically sold, so all we’re here for is to ask for a little more time.”

Dave Pokela, a Greensboro attorney representing the developer, Orange County Investors Partnership, said vendors could not continue to operate and sell on the property once the annexation request is approved.

“If it is annexed, the only thing we can do is to try extend the time to remove items,” Pokela said. “There are a lot of requests that are tied to two and three months for selling but I don’t think selling is an option once there’s annexation.”

In addition to the three-month extension, Wendy Padilla, who was recently elected to the Orange County school board, asked the council to help the vendors relocate to a new site.

“Tonight, you will hear stories of vendors who have raised their children at the flea market,” Padilla said. “You will hear stories of how they were given the green light to buy carports four months ago to get this letter saying they have to take these carports down by July 15.”

a man removes a sign from the Buckhorn Road Flea Market
David Lee Pettingell removes a sign from the Buckhorn Road Flea Market. (Photo: Greg Childress)

Council member Jonathan White proposed a two-month extension to allow vendors to sell their wares, then move out.

“In a situation like this, I want to try look for a solution which is the closest to a win, win, win for all of the parties and I’m having a hard time finding that.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tim Bradley made a motion to move forward with the annexation.

“I feel tremendously for those who worked at the flea market and those who have invested money in the flea market, but in reality, that’s an issue between the owner of the flea market that ran that business and the individuals that work there.” Bradley said.

Advocates for Latino vendors contend the flea market has been one of the few places immigrant small-business owners can reach their customers. Some of the 600-plus small business owners drive from as far as Johnston County, and the market is visited by over 40,000 shoppers during busy summer weekends, they said.

Meanwhile, Miller plans to mostly take it easy now that the flea market has closed.

“I’m going to take a vacation, I guess,” Miller said, as she watched family members pack boxes of tools, leather goods and other wares into boxes. “Believe me, this was a shock.”


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