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Fire leaves flea market vendors in lurch

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

A part owner of Sweeties Flea Market in Hampton is uncertain when the business will be able to resume normal operations, following a late night blaze.

"It's a terrible thing," said Wesley Hallman. Hallman said the flea market's weekend operations have been suspended until further notice.

Henry County firefighters responded to a call Tuesday, at 11:25 p.m., according to Henry County Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett. The fire, at 2316 Ga. Highway 19/41, left one building heavily damaged. There were no reports of injuries, she said..

Puckett said the cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

Hallman expects to reopen the flea market once he gets a clearance from Henry County fire investigators. "It's a setback, but we'll just have to see what happens," he said. "The flea market has been here over 60 years. We're going to do the best we can to recover from this, and move forward."

Hallman, who took part ownership of the market in 2005, said it had become a fixture in the community, attracting regular customers from Clayton, Henry, and Spalding counties.

"It started in 1947, and grew into what it is now," he said. "On a good day, we'll get about 100 vendors. We're fairly well-known."

Hallman said the flea market's vendors sold various items, from tools to baby clothes, to produce. Electronics and produce were among the items damaged by Tuesday's fire. He said there were about 10 vendors making use of the facility to store their products at the time of the fire.

Several other vendors also will be left without a venue to sell their goods for a while, he said.

Alfredo Lucas, who owns La Huerta Lucas Produce, salvaged several watermelons he stored in a corner room of the flea market facility. He said he is still able to sell the produce at different locations in the area.

Hampton resident, Jorge Velasco, said at least half of his merchandise was damaged by the water used to put out the fire, which destroyed the storage rooms near his. He said the flea market is his only means of supporting his wife and three children, since falling on hard times that resulted from the economic downturn.

"He doesn't know what to do," added his son, Angel Velasco, 7.