Flea market vendors ponder next move. One option in Opa-locka is indoors but pricier

·6 min read

The reincarnation of the iconic Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market won’t sell live roosters, host beer-fueled salsa concerts or entertain children on party rides in the muggy South Florida heat.

But planners are hoping that the hundreds of vendors, soon to be displaced by the Sept. 30 closing of the iconic open-air marketplace, can thrive indoors at the headquarters of Atlantic Hosiery, an Opa-locka clothing business just up the street.

Inside the cavernous main building, workers have hurried to clear space where the company already runs a retail outlet selling panties, bras and other undergarments. Metal partitions have been erected, mapping out what will be aisles lined with 15-by-15-foot booths available for rent. Farther inside, more aisles will rise where large boxes stuffed with bras and pantyhose are now stacked as part of the company’s wholesale business.

Atlantic Hosiery owner Daniel Whitebook is busy consulting architects and contractors, game planning with Opa-locka city officials and fielding inquiries from nervous — and sometimes demanding — vendors who want prime floor space at good rates. So far, he says, the booth rental rates will be slightly higher than those of the old flea market, but for indoor spaces with air conditioning.

Some 250 vendors have already inquired, with about 60 committed with deposits. The business, which will be operated as a separate corporation called the Opa-locka Hialeah Indoor Market, should open sometime before the outdoor flea market closes for good.

“The flea market has a lot of traffic and we’ve had our store since 1984,” said Whitebook, the longtime owner and operator. “It’ll increase our traffic and we’ll provide space for the people. Both businesses could thrive.”

Looking for affordable rents

Open since 1985, the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market has suffered alongside many South Florida flea markets, thanks to online shopping and the redevelopment pressure. Still, most of the 700-or-so vendors were stunned when the market’s management announced in late May that it was closing — and they had only three weeks to vacate.

Vendors have scrambled to find new digs. For many, rents at traditional brick-and-mortar buildings are simply too high.

Atlantic Hosiery employees pack clothing articles inside a warehouse attached to their employer’s storefront. The company is opening rental space to vendors from the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market, who were recently given eviction notices.
Atlantic Hosiery employees pack clothing articles inside a warehouse attached to their employer’s storefront. The company is opening rental space to vendors from the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market, who were recently given eviction notices.

Some reached out to the 7th Avenue Flea Market in North Miami, a lesser known spot that has also fallen on hard times in recent years. The flea market, open from Wednesday to Sunday, offers a range of goods, but specializes in beauty supplies and hair dressers, many of them Haitian and Jamaican.

Agnes and Gyula Kis, the sister-and-brother team that run the market, soon began getting inquiries from Opa-locka vendors. Gyula — a one-man operation who takes care of maintenance, cleaning and even security — began preparing spaces that hadn’t had occupants in years.

“We don’t have as many customers as the Opa-locka flea market has. Obviously, if all of our places are occupied, the situation would be better, especially if they are able to advertise on social media to attract people,” Gyula Kis said.

For Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market vendors like Irma Moreau, moving to 7th Street didn’t work at first — she simply has too much merchandise: an array of comforters, bed spreads, curtains, women’s underwear, pots, pans, umbrellas, backpacks and more.

But she ultimately chose the smaller North Miami market over Atlantic. “It was just too expensive,” she said.

As vendors like Moreau publicly complained about the rush to evict them, city of Opa-locka officials stepped in to help broker a deal with Link Logistics to allow them to stay until Sept. 30. And officials approached Atlantic Hosiery, which was founded by Whitebook’s father-in-law, Rubin Kloda, in January 1967.

“Atlantic Hosiery is a longstanding business within our community and they have a good reputation,” said Opa-locka City Commissioner Chris Davis. “I think they can definitely help fill in the gap and relocated vendors in providing an upgrade from the previous business arrangement.”

City Manager Darvin Williams said the city has been providing $300 to each vendor to help defray costs of moving, licenses and registrations, regardless of whether they move to Atlantic or elsewhere. He also said the county will help assisting vendors.

“We created this opportunity for all vendors and we want them to stay in the city,” he said of the $7 million project to turn Atlantic into a new indoor flea market.

Each vendor has been provided with $300 of financial assistance for moving expenses, licenses and registrations, according to Williams. He said that Miami-Dade County will help with the cost of moving he more than 700 vendors who worked in the flea market, regardless of whether they relocate to the Atlantic or elsewhere.

Whitebook is hoping to expand to accommodate hundreds of vendors in the nearly 200,000-square-foot main building — with bathrooms, fire sprinklers and air conditioning. Like the Opa-locka Hialeah market, it will be open seven days a week.

Even with added time to plan, there have been challenges. With supply chain issues, it’s been a hassle securing the building material like the metal grid partitions and scissor-style gates.

Empty retail spaces where potential tenants from the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market could move inside nearby Atlantic Hosiery.
Empty retail spaces where potential tenants from the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market could move inside nearby Atlantic Hosiery.

Parking has also been the biggest concern.

But Whitebook says he is closing on another adjacent warehouse space that will add 240 spaces. And he hopes to accommodate tire shops, alarm installations and window tinters — all popular vendors in the old flea market — in another adjacent warehouse he owns. In all, the complex could be spread out over 15 acres.

“The more people come to get the tires done, the more people will want go to the food trucks,” he said.

The city has also floated a plan to build a multi-level parking garage, within three months, on the premises. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but Whitebook said it would add another three acres of valuable parking.

“I’m concerned about the parking, I am trying to get vendors to delay their move date to have the parking lot ready once they move, in a few months,” said Williams, the city manager.

Dealing with vendors also hasn’t been easy. One demanded three months free rent — and prime space near the door. The rates will be between $400 and $600 a week, depending on the proximity to the front entrance.

Some have been critical of the space. Roberto Hilarion, a 74-year-old salesman of pet fish, said the spaces at Atlantic Hosiery were simply too small, the infrastructure too limited, the prices too high.

“We won’t sell anything over there,” he said. “There isn’t enough parking.”

But others, like Alexandra and Gustavo Pires, who run four four food trucks at the Opa-locka Hialeah market jumped at the chance. They plan to park at least one truck outside, with hopes of one day getting clearance to open up a stall inside as well.

“I like that it’s clean, and how it’s going to be divided up,” Alexandra Pires said. “We’re expecting it’s going to be a flea market with class.”

Maria de Leon, who runs a stall selling women’s clothes, has also signed up. She currently pays $340 a week for an interior stall in the Opa-locka Hialeah market. But after touring Atlantic, she says she is fine with paying $450 a week — because clients will enjoy air conditioning, and won’t be deterred by the rains that normally squelch outdoor business during the summer.

“It’s important for us to stay in the area. Most of our clients are Cuban, from Hialeah,” she said. “I have faith it’s going to be a great change for us.”