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Mebane flea market closes after 41 years, forcing community of immigrant vendors to relocate

Pascual Ramirez, 65, is a former vendor at the Buckhorn Flea Market in Mebane who closed his business there on June 30th, 2024 after 28 years operating there.
Aaron Sanchez-Guerra
Pascual Ramirez, 65, is a former vendor at the Buckhorn Flea Market in Mebane. He closed his business on June 30, 2024 after 28 years operating there.

This will be the first weekend in several decades that the Buckhorn Jockey Lot and Flea Market in Mebane won't be bustling with lively crowds of patrons and hundreds of vendors.

The Buckhorn flea market — known in Spanish by many as "La Pulga de Mebane" — was an economic stronghold and lifeline to a largely Latino immigrant community, but also to American, Asian and African vendors.

It shut its doors on June 30 after the market's owners put out a two-week notice that the market was closing and vendors had to move out.

Marco Vega is one of the many vendors who had called the flea market home for more than 20 years. He ran El Hercules, an open-air tire shop providing discount tires and maintenance to the market's patrons and vendors.

He complained that it was unethical for vendors to not be given enough time to relocate and have special sales to liquidate their merchandise.

"It leaves you with shock to have to move out so soon," Vega, 50, told WUNC in Spanish. "I'm young still, I'm strong, but it still stresses me out. People think it's as easy as just saying, 'Get up and go!'"

Vega faces the difficult logistics of finding a new place to relocate his shop and arranging the storage of thousands of pounds in tires and other equipment in the meantime.

Marco Vega stands next to where he operated his tire shop at the Buckhorn flea market in Mebane for 22 years.
Aaron Sanchez-Guerra
Marco Vega stands next to where he operated his tire shop at the Buckhorn flea market in Mebane for 22 years.

On July 1, the Mebane City Council voted to annex the property and rezone it for the development of a new trucking terminal by R+L Carriers, a Greensboro-based company. The company seeks to build the trucking center and other structures on more than 82 acres. Mebane city officials favor the development as part of the city's designated growth plans and Orange County's Buckhorn Economic Development District, officials said at the meeting.

A large crowd of vendors and other supporters showed up at Mebane City Hall to ask for three months to move out and to sell their remaining merchandise. The city council approved a motion to extend their move-out date to Aug. 14.

Previously, they'd been given only a month's notice on June 15 to move everything out of the market.

“The folks at the flea market have been good tenants, however, there is not a contract,” Mike Fox, an attorney for the property owner, told the city council. “It is an at-will contract, so we thought by extending the time for them, that would be helpful.”

Fox explained that the timing of the market's closure was related to the developer's confidence that the property could be annexed and rezoned in time for construction. Construction on the project is slated to begin later this year, according to developers.

"The reality was that they had their plans in motion already, even if we wanted to protest it," Vega said. "There wasn't any support for us other than the time extension."

Siembra NC, a grassroots immigrant advocacy organization in central North Carolina, helped seek concessions for the vendors, whom they said were being unfairly evicted.

"Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people will be affected, some people directly economically, and then more people just because of the cultural implications of losing this really important community space," said Nikki Marin-Baena, the co-director of Siembra NC. "It raises some questions about how people in local government think about what their role is."

Marin-Baena said many of the vendors will scatter to find a new flea market to work in, such as the Durham Green Flea Market.

"People do what they wish with their property, is how I see it," said Pascual Ramirez, 65, in Spanish.

Ramirez and his wife operated a store that he called the "Wal-Mart" of the flea market in Mebane for 28 years. He'll now begin to look for a place to sell a truckload of unsold goods.

"We can't do anything about it," said Ramirez. "They gave us a long time to be here, and whoever made it here, made it."

Olivia Garcia, who operated a jewelry and women's clothing store at the market for nearly two decades, was sad about the news. But she was hopeful for the future.

"We're going to keep looking and give it what we got," Garcia said. "Us Mexicans can figure it out anywhere we choose to go."

Aaron Sánchez-Guerra covers issues of race, class, and communities for WUNC.