After more than 40 years, a Chilliwack flea market will be closing its doors – possibly forever.
Sharon McLay, who’s been the manager of the Princess Armouries Flea Market for 27 years, made the announcement on Jan. 19.
“This is the hardest post I have ever had to make. Many of you know the flea market has been around for 42 years with me managing it for 27 years. Unfortunately, that is coming to an end as of Jan. 29, 2023,” she wrote on social media.
The flea market, which has about 40-45 vendors, takes place every week at the Princess Armouries building on Princess Avenue in Chilliwack. On any given Sunday, people will find a wide variety of items for sale including jewelry, DVDs, handmade items, baking, tools, clothing, smoked salmon and more.
McLay rents the building at a weekly rate from the 147 Airwolf Royal Canadian Air Cadets Squadron. Recently, the parents society with the cadets wrote up a new contract for the flea market rental which included several changes.
Although the rent did increase in the agreement, McLay said that’s not the issue. They removed the use of the kitchen from the contract.
“The kitchen was the deciding factor, most definitely,” McLay said. “That’s how I make money to pay the rent.”
Plus, she said she was informed that she’s required to offer food and drinks for the merchants to buy.
“The health board told me years and years ago that you can’t operate a flea market unless you provide refreshments and (food) for the vendors because they’re here for 10 hours.”
The flea market was originally run 42 years ago by the Branch 4 Royal Canadian Legion. McLay took over in 1996 and she’s been there nearly every Sunday since.
The City of Chilliwack owns the building and they have an agreement with the air cadets stating that the cadet organization is responsible for all of the maintenance to the inside of the building.
“It is a really old building,” said Jennifer Medwenitsch, chair of the 147 Airwolf Air Cadets Parents Society.
Built in 1913, the Princess Armouries building is 110 years old.
Due to the age of the facility, it’s “quite costly” to maintain the inside of the building, Medwenitsch said.
Over the past few years, the cadets doubled in size and they’re now at more than 100 members. They use the space three times a week.
The increase in membership means more storage space is needed, plus expenses have increased for the cadets and bills for the facility have also gone up.
They’ve incurred costly expenses in repairs to the kitchen, including plumbing, so the parents society made an executive decision that the kitchen is only to be used by the cadets.
“To have it used on a commercial basis… it’s just not viable for us anymore,” Medwenitsch said.
“We’re very community-minded and it’s really unfortunate that she wasn’t able to continue the flea market. It’s not something that we wanted to see happen,” she added. “We just had to put some parameters to be more financially responsible because we are managing money that’s for the cadets, and the cadets organization comes first.”
McLay and others who help out with the flea market said they are sad to see it go.
“I am heartbroken. My husband and I both have cancer so it’s been very hard for me to keep this running. But, I have because I have people helping me and because it’s a community,” McLay said.
One person who’s been there with McLay the entire time is friend Mona Deibert.
“An era is gone,” Deibert said through tears. “People come here for community, elderly people come here to have a hot dog and a pop and they sit here and we talk. We are a family.”
McLay said she is now looking for a new location for the flea market. The space would need to be large enough for about 50 tables, plus they need access to a kitchen.
In the meantime, McLay and Deibert and all the vendors are preparing for the last two markets.
“I hope we see a lot of our regulars over the next two weeks,” McLay said. “It honestly is breaking my heart to say goodbye to our faithful customers and vendors.”
The Princess Armouries Flea Market will be open for two more days – Sunday, Jan. 22 and Sunday, Jan. 29 – at 45707 Princess Ave. in Chilliwack. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is no admission, but there is a donation box at the entrance to help pay for building expenses.
Anyone who would like to contact Sharon McLay in regards to a new location can reach her at 604-316-4459 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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