Vendors leave Pasco flea market as utilities shut off

The impact of the Pasco County flea market being closed for good

PORT RICHEY, Fla. -- Well, any businesses left at the USA Flea Market in Port Richey had little choice but to move out Wednesday.

As part of a legal agreement that will eventually see the place demolished because of hundreds of code violations, the utilities are scheduled to be shut off by Thursday.

“Water got turned off today,” said Scott Neal, who held out as long as he could. Now, Neal has got to move his appliance business.

“Never would have thought this would happen,” he said.

The property along U.S. 19 was shut down in June after code inspectors found hundreds of building, fire and safety violations.

As a result, dozens of small business were suddenly told they had to get out. 

“It's wrong. You know, these peoples' livelihoods. They made their livings doing this,” said longtime customer Thomas Uhl.

Some of the merchants have posted signs outside their shuttered work spaces, letting customers know they've relocated.

Jay Tarr, for example, has since found a new spot a few miles south along U.S. 19 for his vehicle headliner business.

“Yeah, we're gonna survive,” said Tarr, “I've been here 27 years. I can't just close up.”

Pasco County offered to help businesses relocate when they shut down the flea market, but vendors say few merchants, if any, have gotten much support.

Instead they've been leaning on each other, relying on word of mouth, business cards, and even contact lists to let customers like Wayne Herban know where they've gone. 

“It was like a newspaper thing, and it said where everyone had gone to,” said Herban, who spotted a flyer at his local doctor’s office. “So, that was a nice thing. But how many people are going to find that?”

In the meantime, vendors say dozens of other their former USA Fleamarket neighbors have closed for good. 

Scott Neal hopes it doesn't get that bad for him, but says the shutdown has already cost him business, forced him out of his apartment, and forced his kids to stay with his girlfriend until he can turn things around. 

“Unfortunately I've just got to deal with it,” said Neal.

As part of the same legal agreement, the owners of the flea market have until Sept. 1 to tear down the rest of the property.

Pasco officials say the owners also have the option of rebuilding correctly with proper permitting, but many of the vendors who waited until now to move out say they doubt that will happen.

Pasco County says it will probably leave a limited amount of utilities working at the property as a precaution in case of emergency.

Officials say so far they have not received a demolition permit application from the property’s owner.

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