For most residents of the Golden Gate area, the open-air market booths lined up at the community center is a way for people to easily get the goods they need without stressing about expenses. The only problem: the market is only open on Saturdays every few months out of the year.
For Maria Garcia, the grocery, clothing, bakery products and seafood booths are a helping hand. “It helps us and the community here,” she said on a recent Saturday while visiting the open-air market.
Most of the community residents do not have cars as a means of transportation; so, having the market within walking distance is ideal for the average busy family. “This is a community where many people do not drive. They walk to the center. They bring their baby carriages, they bring their kids by walking,” said Neomi Rakow, who runs the market with her husband. “This market is especially designed for this situation. They are able to come with their kids, buy their vegetables, buy their kids a little bit of lunch, see their neighbors and get together in the community.”
The market managers say they have collected over 1,300 signatures from Golden Gate neighbors who support keeping the market open all year. They also have the support of the advisory board of the Golden Gate Community Center, which plans to ask the Collier County Commission for a variance to keep the center open on Saturdays all year. Current county rules allow open-air markets to be at any location for only 28 days a year. But vendors say neighbors do not leave when the season ends.
Open-air markets do not have specific regulation in Collier County. They are treated as special events and allowed to apply for two 14-day permits per location. That could cover six months if used for one day a week. The planning commission recommended extending the number of days allowed per permit, but at least one commissioner says the issue needs more study.
“These flea markets put a heavy burden on our roads, all goods sold in flea markets and farmer markets are the same goods sold in big stores and mom and pop,” said Commissioner Tom Henning in an email. “These commercial retail stores pay property taxes and sales tax. These flea markets and farmers markets popping up do not pay either, therefore robbing the community.”
Henning said there needs to be a separation between flea markets and farmers markets — currently many of the markets sell both groceries and other goods. He said the county could possibly look at charging impact fees.
Flea market vendors are supposed to file sales taxes when they sell taxable goods. County permits for special sales and events, up to 14 days, have a $200 fee.
At her Naples Fruits grocery store on Collier Boulevard, Maria Torres sells groceries, meat and seafood. She said she noticed a sharp decrease in clients when the open-air market reopened in October. Torres said her store lives off people who come to get something fast. With a $5,000 monthly rent, plus utilities and taxes, she said she is losing money every month, and she blames that partially on the market. “The situation is very sad,” she said.
Although some other business owners agree with Torres, Ciro Gomez, who started a fresh seafood store, Leidy Seafood, in Golden Gate City, said he would be in favor of having it opened year round. He said he knows the vendor who sells seafood at the market, and he doesn’t have a problem with that. “The cake is big enough for everyone,” he said.