Rebuilt Webb Road market holds grand opening

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 10, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Thunder rumbled over the Webb Road Flea Market on Friday afternoon, but for the first time in nearly a year, that didn’t bother the vendors.
Their wares and customers stayed dry as the rain played background music on red metal roofs above them.
The market is celebrating its grand reopening this weekend, operating as an indoor market for the first time since a fire in September.
Located just off exit 70 of Interstate 85, at the corner of Webb and Leach roads, it features about 166 vendors, including new ones and those returning after the blaze.
“We would like for people to come out and shop,” said co-owner Chris Stephens. “Help our vendors get back on their feet and back in business.”
Just one week after the devastating fire, many vendors struggled to recover lost livelihoods by starting an open-air market on the site.
Salisbury residents Glenn and Betty Sue Lowder have sold wood crafts at the flea market with Ann Swanner, also of Salisbury, since the second week it was open in 1985. When the market burned down, they faced the loss of their only source of income, so they kept their shop going in more difficult conditions.
“We were trying to sell outside in the rain, sleet and snow,” Glenn Lowder said. “The sun was bleaching the wood.”
The original wooden buildings destroyed by the blaze are gone, but the market now features a 130,000-square-foot metal structure with wood-post framing.
The new facility includes 10 buildings, each 12,000 square feet, with a covered breezeway connecting them. Eight of the buildings are fully enclosed, and two are open, shed-type buildings.
“It’s a lot better than it used to be,” Glenn Lowder said. “It’s cleaner, more open.”
Robin Crabtree, of Salisbury, said while she was running Exotic Pets and Supplies outside, “we were just existing.” She couldn’t grow her business or even open it some weekends.
“The day they gave me the keys and said it was time to come inside, I felt like there was instant forgiveness for the fire,” Crabtree said. “It’s out with the old and in with the new, and we’re just going forward from here.”
None of that store’s pets were harmed by the fire, she said, because they are taken home from the store when it closes.
Crabtree is the only vendor selling pets in the new flea market, and she operates out of her own room with a storefront. The shop is located in one of two heated buildings, but that isn’t much help in August.
“The new buildings are great,” she said. “I just wish there was air conditioning.”
Indoor restaurants will have air conditioning as well as heat, said Catherine Popp, one of the co-owners of the flea market.
Popp said the Webb Road Flea Market’s nearly 1,000 indoor spaces are 98 percent leased.
The old flea market was described as a hodgepodge of wood and tin structures that were both open and enclosed. It was not equipped with a fire alarm system.
LaFave’s Construction Co. of Landis served as general contractor for the rebuilding effort.
“We wanted to make every effort to get our folks back in business,” Popp said.
Other co-owners of the market include Tom Walton and his family, Stephens’ wife Libby and Popp’s husband Joey.
Vendors said they saw a small but steady stream of visitors Friday, many from Rowan County but some from other cities along Interstate 85, such as Lexington and Concord.
“We’ve seen a lot of people we haven’t seen in a while,” said Betty Lowder.
Judy Mesimer, a Salisbury resident, said she’s impressed by the new market and is glad it’s back open.
“Everybody likes coming over here to shop and see people you know,” said Mesimer.
At one point in the afternoon, the new market’s fire alarm blared loudly for several seconds, with strobe lights blinking along 12-foot-high ceilings.
It was just a test.
When the alarm fell silent, one vendor remarked, “Well, at least we know it works.”
For leasing information, contact Buddy Johnson, who manages the day-to-day operations of Webb Road Flea Market, at 704-857-6660.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.