Flea Market is Family Business


Story By Natalie Salvatore
For LIVE Lee Magazine

For 35 years, a family-owned small business has been making its mark on the community in Smiths Station, Alabama. In 1986,

Ruth Williams opened the Lee County Flea Market, LLC. Her daughter, Rhonda Jones, and Rhonda’s husband, Barry Jones, took over the business when Williams passed away. During its first year of business, the flea market was located across the street where a Marathon gas station currently stands.

“It did so well the first year that she moved it to the current location,” Rhonda said. “There seemed to be a need in the area, and she was right”.

Their business is the largest outdoor flea market in East Central Alabama and provides different items to suit any interests. Assorted vendors sell items that are older, used and even new, all with different bargains. Guests can browse through over 300 tables on display, many of which are underneath a covered shed. The market’s layout results in great visibility and convenience for guests to travel from one display to the next.

The flea market is open every weekend of the year from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., no matter the weather. The long hours of operation allow customers to truly take advantage of all that the market has to offer based on what fits their own schedules.

According to Rhonda and Barry, their days are jam-packed with business and eager customers.

Rhonda said that her husband and their son, Ben, hit the ground running bright and early in the mornings to facilitate a seamless day of business ahead.

“We are busy from 6 a.m., forward aligning parking, getting the vendors to their spots and ensuring a smooth opening once the customers begin filling up the parking lot around 7 a.m.,” Barry said.

The bulk of their day is spent making future reservations and answering any questions customers may have. One of the family members is always in the office to answer phone calls throughout the week, which is one of their priorities. The family works hard all week long instead of just when the flea market is open.

Besides their other duties, Rhonda and Barry also grade the parking, clean the property and help fix the tables after customers are constantly moving around from one display to another.

Not only does the market provide goods to be sold, but it also serves food. Guests can stop by for breakfast or lunch at the Snack Shack while they browse the tables. With its different food trailers and concessions stands, food choices range from various meats to boiled peanuts to funnel cakes.

The flea market, besides being important to the community, means a great deal to the Jones’ family. With the help of her mother’s vision for the market, Rhonda said they have been able to grow their business throughout the past several years.

“Surely the market still provides a place for folks to sell their goods after ‘cleaning out the attic or garage,’ but has evolved into so much more,” Barry said.

People don’t just come to buy or sell goods. Rhonda said that keeping a welcoming, family-friendly environment is important to them. Some of the vendors have set up with their flea market for over 20 years — some even since the market’s founding.

“For example, we have several regulars who are military retirees [who] set up weekly to supplement their retirement income, but honestly, some just show up to discuss politics or the current weather patterns,” Barry said. “We absolutely love those guys, and they will do anything in the world to help us.”

The flea market closed for the very first time in April 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the business was not closed for long. Reopening just one month later, the business boomed every weekend that followed. The owners are continuing to stress the importance of social distancing, good overall hygiene, as well as encouraging face coverings.

“Being an outdoor market, people have been ready to get back outdoors and back to some sort of normalcy,” Rhonda said.

Barry said how wonderful it was for everyone to come back together again with more love, laughter and happiness.

“The market truly is a diverse melting pot of all types of people, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or ethnicity,” he said. “We strive to encourage our people to be tolerant and respectful of each other”.

For vendors, a table in the field is $10, and dealers can choose any free table they would like. Vendors can conveniently pull up behind their table and immediately start setting up their display. Sellers are encouraged to be at their display or have someone cover it for them at all times. For anticipating busy mornings, if the vendor is not watching their table, the space could be used for someone else. Marking up their tables with price tags or covering the tables first are more recommendations by the owners.

As the morning progresses, one of the owners goes around to collect the rental fees. Rhonda and Barry suggest vendors bring staking for their tents if they choose to set them up themselves. A table can be reserved in advance under the covered shed for $15 or $20 per day.

To claim their reservations, vendors must arrive by 8 a.m. Using a tarp is crucial as well in reserving your designated display spot. Call 334-291-7780 to reserve a table. After vendors call, the owners will reserve spots with a table number. Setup of tables begins on Friday morning at the earliest.

There is no cost for admission to the flea market or to park there. Located at the intersections of U.S. Highway 280/431 and 201 Lee Road 379, the flea market is approximately 15 miles from the Auburn-Opelika community. Take Exit 62 off Interstate 85 to get there. For more information, email leecountyfleamarket2014@gmail.com or visit www.leecountyfleamarket.com/home.


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