Online companies such as Ebay and Amazon have changed the way Americans shop in recent years, but it hasn’t stopped the Annual VFW Gun Show & Flea Market just up the road in Hillsville, Virginia, as it begins its second half century this weekend.
The power of the internet and online commerce has affected traditional sales for many businesses, not just flea markets and gun shows. It can be seen all around the U.S. as malls are struggling and many established chains pack up and move more of their business online.
That trend has affected Hillsville’s Gun Show and Flea Market some, but organizers say the annual event remains one of the largest such gatherings in America, and certainly east of the Mississippi River.
“It’s like once being considered a billionaire and now you are an $850 millionaire. It is still a really big deal,” Hillsville Mayor Greg Crowder said of the annual event.
A businessman himself, Crowder is not naïve to today’s shopping trends. He knows most of the really good antiques are bought online these days. Having collected bottles for more than 20 years, the internet opened new worlds for him in the hobby.
“As the internet starting growing, things become more readily available and it has taken the allure away from paying to set up and traveling to sell when they can pay online with no expense whatsoever. That is what Amazon is doing and it is starting to kill the shopping malls,” Crowder said.
“That will be a national crisis for us. President Trump, one of the things he is doing is trying to tax them and get them on a level playing field because none of us want real estate to be worthless.”
Hillsville’s Annual Gun Show and Flea Market remains strong, however, partly because of the tradition it has built up over the years. For many people, it is a staple and a mainstay of the flea market circuit, and its proximety ot Mount Airy means plenty of local folks sojourn up the mountain each year. Sometimes more than once over the weekend.
“It was established early and got right in front of the all the collectible craze — the knives, guns, bottles. It was in a nice, central location and a cooler place to have something that time of the year,” Crowder said. “The stars just aligned for it to take off and it’s something the founding fathers of Hillsville should always be thankful for. It brings a lot of money to the town and the county. A lot of businesses wouldn’t make it without the flea market and many landowners have enhanced their style of living because of it.”
The Hillsville Mayor said a Flea Market Committee has been developed to try to make the annual event even better than it has been. The committee will utilize social media more in the future, hopefully hitting up every yard sale page within a 500-mile area to try to increase interest and grow the show. After all, more than 50 years later, the original charms that made the Hillsville event so special are still prevalent today.
“A lot of the allure is finding that golden gem, buying that ten dollar item that is worth a thousand dollars,” Crowder said. “It still happens regularly at the flea market. There are still many treasures to be found.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN