Flea market’s future in Marquette in question
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
“Last year’s flea market was a wash. We made $29 after everything was done. The weather was against us and, with the move, some vendors bowed out. I’m asking for the last time if it’s possible to go back [under the bridge].”
Those were the words of Marquette Flea Market organizer Mary Jo Pirc at the Feb. 18 city council meeting. Pirc told the council that, if the flea market remains on Edgar Street, and the Action Club, who puts on the event, doesn’t make any money, this will be the flea market’s final year in Marquette.
The flea market, which celebrated its 47th season in 2013, moved from under the bridge to Edgar Street for the first time last year, after city officials cited parking and safety concerns.
The flea market is held each year on Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July weekend, Labor Day weekend and for the first two weekends in October. Pirc said the May flea market is the biggest, but that 25 vendors were lost because they could not be accommodated due to lack of space. Other vendors left because shoppers, weary of walking through town to Edgar Street, did not want to make the entire trek down and back up the single line of vendors.
Councilwoman Cindy Halvorson said some of her customers at Eagles Landing Winery too complained about the longer walk. She also said there were issues with people not getting off the road when traffic was coming.
While forcing people to walk through Marquette to get to the new flea market grounds helped some retailers increase business, Pirc said others, like Casey’s and the Marquette Bar and Cafe, lost business.
“It’s a lot of work,” Pirc said of organizing the flea market. “If you don’t make money, if you’re not bringing business to town, what are you doing it for?”
“If you don’t have vendors, then there’s no people,” Halvorson added. “If you only knew how much business this brings to town. The businesses need the flea markets.”
Halvorson said flea market attendees would also like to see food available.
“That’s why the Legion’s here,” Pirc said, motioning to Commander Bob Siegele, who was also in the audience.
“If Marquette gives it up, it’s going to Elkader,” Siegele warned. “Once people get aggravated, they’re not going to come back.”
Although safety and traffic concerns were the impetus for moving the flea market, Pirc said some of those same concerns still exist in the new location because people were not used to it.
City Manager Dean Hilgerson mentioned that there are some traffic flow changes the city could make at the new Edgar Street location in order to lessen pedestrian confusion. For example, he said, the entrance/exit to Hwy. 18 could be designated as an exit only, and not an entrance.
“Those are things we need to think about to make it better,” he said.
The city said the main issue with moving the flea market back under the bridge is that some of the property is not within the city’s jurisdiction. Marquette has control over the park and parking lot, but not the green space in the valley, which is DOT property.
“If we had it in the valley and there was an accident and we didn’t have permission, would the city be at risk?” questioned Hilgerson.” I just don’t know.”
The council took no action on the issue, as Mayor Norma Mason said she would contact the DOT to see if they would allow the flea market to use its space.