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Flea market refugees find home in Santa Clara

Jim Lee, left, organizer of the new Santa Clara Flea Market in front of the old National Guard Armory, makes a deal with Joe Trujillo on Saturday morning. (Geoffrey Plant/Silver City Daily Press)

Drivers traveling through Arenas Valley on U.S. 180 may have noticed the migration of vendors from Uncle Woody’s Flea Market to a new location in front of the former National Guard Armory in Santa Clara.

And according to the new market’s organizer, Jim Lee, the already-popular Santa Clara Flea Market and Swap Meet has room to grow.

“This spot is central to the Mining District and has good parking, plus we can expand into that field over there,” Lee said, standing on the eastern end of the market space and gesturing toward open space between the armory and the neighboring Dollar General discount store. “I want to make sure people in the Mining District know they can come out here for free. All I ask is that people think about donating $5 at the end of the day – if they think it was worth it.

“Times are hard right now, people are losing their jobs,” he continued. “If you need money and have some things to sell, put that stuff in the back of your pickup and come on out – it’s free.”

There is no admission or fees charged for parking at the market, which also hosts vendors from elsewhere, like Deming and El Paso, for example.

A self-described rockhound and a die-hard Ford lover, Lee is an inveterate collector of stuff. Lots of it, of all kinds. He is also retired military, and used to be the noncommissioned officer in charge of the National Guard Armory in Santa Clara – which he said is what drew him to the location.

“I’m a card-carrying anti-communist,” Lee added with a smile, displaying his retired military ID.

“I talked to (Santa Clara Village Clerk) Sheila Hudman, and she put me in touch with Mayor (Richard) Bauch” in late July, Lee said. “We presented the idea to the village trustees, and they approved it.”

Santa Clara officials have for years been trying to gain traction with their mercado, a set of vendor booths located in the middle of the village, but while Bauch said that outdoor commercial space is “still available, not too much has happened with that.

“We’ve wanted to do something like a market for some time,” Bauch said. “When Mr. Lee approached us, we thought it was a good idea, and so the council approved it, especially since the armory is closed due to COVID, you know. When the time comes and we want to reopen the armory, we can still do the flea market. And there’s room to expand. It’s a great location.”

Over the years, Bauch added, the village has “had a lot of requests for doing rummages and that kind of stuff, and this seemed to be a good way to approach it.”

“We’re just providing the space to do it, and trying to provide an avenue for people to do something,” Bauch added. “It’s also a way to help people during the hardships of COVID. It might be a way for people to come out and sell a few things.”

By the Daily Press’s count, between 50 and 75 customers came and went over the course of a little more than an hour Saturday morning, and Lee counted 15 vendor spots occupied.

“Every week we add one or two more,” he said.

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