Despite a recent tragedy and a funding controversy, one community of vendors has rallied to support a popular local flea market in Montgomery, Ala.
“The Flea Market At The Farmers’ Market” in Montgomery takes place once a month at the fairgrounds site of a daily farm market run by the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries. The coordinator of the flea market, Ralph “Critterman” McNeil, was stabbed to death this past January in what police allege was a contract murder and part of a child custody dispute. That death left the market community in shock, and the fate of the flea market uncertain.
“It was really tragic, what happened to the Critterman” says market manager Nick Zorn. McNeil got his nickname from the pest control business he also operated. “That’s what we called him,” Zorn explains. “He got rid of critters. Squirrels in the attic. Snakes. He had a good reputation around town.”
Zorn says that McNeil was the one who founded the flea market. “The Critterman started this six or eight years ago. He was really well thought of in the community. He did a good job promoting this flea market.”
Meanwhile, in late February, the Alabama Department of Agriculture announced it was canceling the Farmers’ Market to help close a budget gap. An outcry went up from the community, and a solution was found, in the form of a partnership with a university, to keep the market open. The bad publicity this generated, however, also hurt market attendance.
With two different challenges facing the market, a couple vendors stepped forward to keep The Flea Market At The Farmers’ Market going, as the Montgomery Advertiser reports. “Larry Cauthen, a vendor, came to us and said he would like the opportunity to revive it,” says Zorn. “He got busy with other vendors around, and they put it all together. We’re proud of that. It’s worked out really well.”
The flea market has made two changes in an effort to bring people back. First, the market has moved from the first weekend of the month to the third weekend of the month to avoid competition from other yard sales and informal flea markets. Second, the market now features special rental rates: $25 per weekend, and $20 for one day.
Zorn hopes that news will get out that the markets are bouncing back. “We’ve been here 30 years, and people were pretty upset about it. But we finally got everything straightened out. We’re up and going, and everything is fine.” He hopes to bring market attendance back to its usual 3,000 to 4,000 shoppers per weekend. At the most recent flea market, there were 18 vendors, in a roofed space that has accommodated 50.
For more information, call the Flea Market At The Farmers’ Market at (334) 242-5350 or e-mail Nick Zorn at email@example.com.
Photo credits, with thanks: The Montgomery Advertiser.