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Pendergrass Flea Market resumes after fire

Blaze destroyed a 20,000-square-foot building

POSTED: April 9, 2011 11:00 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Pendergrass Flea Market vendor Dwayne Martin sets up his booth Saturday morning as the popular flea market resumes business after last weekend's fire destroyed part of the facility. Vendors used tents and set up outdoors for business.

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When Dwayne Martin first arrived to the Pendergrass Flea Market nearly 15 years ago, he brought a bunch of pencils and the will to sell.

Fire had wiped out the vendor's Tennessee location. So he started from scratch in Jefferson, where his mother lived.

"I lost everything," Martin said.

"I showed up with 10 boxes of pencils and grew into one of the biggest vendors here."

He repeated the comeback story Saturday at the popular flea market, where a fire last week again leveled his business.

As he spoke, cars filed into the popular attraction at 5641 U.S. 129 North, which re-opened around 9 a.m. and will resume the same time today.

The blaze destroyed a 20,000-square-foot building at the Pendergrass market around 1 a.m. on April 3, forcing the temporary closure of all indoor locations through the week and Saturday.

"We're trying as hard as possible to make things back to normal, to keep vendors in business," said Ernest Espinel, business manager at the market.

Though the majority of air-conditioned structures at the flea market were untouched by the fire, security and safety precautions kept Espinel from allowing people into those areas Saturday. As a result some vendors could not retrieve their goods left inside the building before the fire. Espinel expected that to change Saturday night or today.

The damaged structure housed merchandise belonging to nearly 60 vendors, he said, none of whom carried insurance on their property.

They are not covered under the flea market's policy as part of their rental agreements, he added.

To help offset the losses, the market's owner Tom Mooser established a matching fund through Regions Bank to support those men and women whose businesses suffered in the fire.

"He feels sorry about what happened, and he wants to help," Espinel said.

A number of vendors learned about the blaze as the Jefferson Fire Department battled to control it over a couple hours.

Four investigators from the state Fire Marshal's Office spent last week on the scene as layers of charred rubble were removed, said Matt Kilgallen, spokesperson for the state agency.

"(Investigators) said due to heavy damage, we are not going to be able to determine a cause," Kilgallen said.

Espinel is hoping for a final determination this week so the upscale market can go about rebuilding the damaged section.

On Saturday, business resumed in an abbreviated way with less than half the number of usual vendors arriving. They set up booths in established outdoor shelters as well as under several large tents.

Martin managed to put together three booths in different areas of the market, despite losing his vast supply of tires, rims and auto accessories.

He was uninsured, having allowed his policy to lapse last November. The merchandise he and his partner Francisco "Pancho" Garcia of Gainesville hawked was new and secured on credit, they said.

"A friend of mine texted me ... I drove here at 1 a.m. and saw everything go up in smoke. I personally lost $60,000," Garcia said.

"There's no sense in sitting down and crying about it. We hope to keep going. We have a mortgage and a family to feed. We'll come back."



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