Imagine taking every fan from the Super Bowl and the Indianapolis 500 and cramming them into a town of less than 3,000 people. To the uninitiated, the thought seems unfathomable, but that is exactly what happens to Hillsville each year during the annual VFW Post 1115 Labor Day Gun Show and Flea Market.
While an exact figure is pretty much impossible to count, Hillsville Mayor Greg Crowder estimates an average of 350,000 to 450,000 people descend upon the town during the four-day event. For those who have seen the endless lines of human bodies that pack together each Labor Day weekend in Hillsville, that number even seems conservative at times. Regardless, the Labor Day Gun Show and Flea Market, which takes place from August 29-September 1, provides an incredibly important economic boon for the town of Hillsville and its businesses.
“We have never done a real economic impact study on it, but it is the equivalent of having a NASCAR race in Hillsville. It’s like having the Indianapolis 500 here,” Crowder said. “It benefits the landowners and non-profit groups who are able to park cars and sell food. As far as meals taxes, it is one of the town’s biggest weeks of the year. It helps bring tourism into town because people know where we are, and they fill our hotels, which increases our lodging taxes. And we are just really learning how to take advantage of it each year, learning how to capitalize on the market. ”
As to why Hillsville’s Gun Show and Flea Market is such a massive event, Crowder has a pretty good theory on that. The mayor explains that it was a huge event well before the internet made it so easy to buy any item. Over the years, people have gotten hooked on the flea market and continue to come back despite the convenience the world wide web provides.
“It started as a coin and knives show and antiques sitting outside of the VFW. That was before eBay and all those websites where you could so readily buy stuff,” Crowder said. “If you were a collector, you had to come to an event and buy your stuff. And with Hillsville being one of the biggest ones, in my opinion, it was where so many people found collectibles to complete their collection like that Browning or Winchester gun you couldn’t find anywhere else. Word got out in the 1970s and 80s and it just sort of propelled everything. Now you can buy everything from a million dollar coin that was sold one year to a two dollar t-shirt. But that is why now it is a landmark holiday or destination for the area.”
VFW Post 1115 Commander Howard Minton said the Labor Day Gun Show & Flea Market is obviously a win-win for both the town and the VFW. It helps bring in money from licenses for the town, but it is also by far the post’s biggest fundraiser.
“It means everything to this post. It brings in a significant amount and it keeps us going for a while,” Minton said. “All our activities, plus what we donate to other organizations, that is where most of the money comes to fund those things.”
Minton agreed with Crowder’s estimation of 350,000 to 450,000 people that annually attend the Hillsville show.
“He is probably right. There are a lot of folks that come through this town. They set up from Louisiana, they come from everywhere,” Minton said. “The internet hurts flea markets, but people still enjoy coming to this thing. They enjoy selling their goods and the gun folks really enjoy it. When you look at 48 years we’ve been doing, it’s become a tradition.”