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HERNANDO AND CITRUS COUNTY

 

Howard’s Flea Market Reborn

By Donna Blevins, PhD

As we age, we often wonder, “What will ever become of…,” but when Alice Cushman neared 70 and her husband was killed in an auto accident in 2011, being the surviving owner of both Howard’s and Webster’s Flea Markets, she took an entirely different approach. With the courage of her entrepreneurial spirit, she called the Howard’s Flea Market office after the sudden death of her husband and said, “We will keep this going!” And they did just that.

The attorneys, Alice and Tom Cushman, acquired Howard’s Flea Market in Homosassa in 1994, two years after acquiring the Webster’s Flea Market. Over the years, while in law practice, they had financial interest in an airport flea market and had grown to love the industry.

“We were late bloomers. In the ‘90s, I practiced computer law and business law, while Tom was a tax attorney and CPA in Clearwater, Fl. Our kids were launched and happily married,” said Cushman.

“We had always been entrepreneurs. We had looked at flea markets and liked the operations. In business, we were ships passing in the night, and we decided to do something together. We eased out of the practice of law during that period when Howard’s became available.

“Before Tom’s death, we were at the point in our lives when we needed to provide successors, but our kids had their own life plans. They did not want to take over the markets.”

“The problem is that developers are buying flea markets and flattening them,” continued Cushman. “But flea markets are institutions that bring economic benefits to the community manned by people from the community.”

Today, flea markets are a multibillion-dollar industry in the U.S. with more than 1,100 markets giving platforms for nearly 2.25 million vendors. The National Flea Market Association reports that vendors generate over $30 billion in sales annually.

“Many of our vendors have been making their livelihood for 20 to 30 years in the markets. For some, it’s a supplemental income, but for most, it’s even more than a livelihood. It is a neighborhood within the marketplace.”

For the six years after her husband’s sudden death, Cushman kept it together with heart and had a team that was a loyal, extended family. She searched for the right successor for the markets.

Cushman said, “We are gratified to have found a family and community-oriented business that is dedicated to keeping both markets alive. Swap-O-Rama runs three large flea markets in the Chicago area and expanded their operation to the South.”

“Flea markets are happening all over Florida, which is the darling for the markets,” Cushman said. “Florida is counter-cyclical for many markets up north and balances the seasons, which is a true asset for Swap-O-Rama.”

“Markets are old institutions in our cultures. They are the most basic form of commerce and are one of the bastions of free commerce,” added Cushman.

“Managing flea markets is very hands-on and engrossing. Swap-O-Rama is professional and knows how to shape the industry. They know immediately how to bump up the attendance and vendors. They have financial resources, as well as the insight and knowledge to move up to another level.”

Swap-O-Rama has been a heart-centered, family-owned business for 40 years, and they bring their years of experience directly to their southern expansion. They have a clear vision of what they see for both markets.

Swap-O-Rama’s onsite legal department manager, Raphael Salama, said they guarantee the markets are here to stay. Their plans include revamping the physical plants and bringing them back up, attracting more people, bringing back activities, and building strong relationships with the vendors.

“There is big potential here with different avenues. We will keep what is in place with the family-oriented flea markets and build from there,” Salama said. “Once stabilized, we plan on bringing in such events as car shows and a new Native American show. Instead of opening another day, we are looking at boosting Fridays; possibly having a night market from 4pm to 7-8pm.”

The immediate changes at Howard’s Flea Market start at the entrance and move on. The dusty, pothole-filled roads have become paved pedestrian-only walkways inside the market, along with pavement driveways within the parking areas.

The current covered booths are affordable for vendors at only $21 a day, but serious investments are going into the physical infrastructure. Rather than raise the rates, Swap-O-Rama’s intention is to increase traffic to create more revenue for the vendors before increasing the daily rates.

“We want to give something before asking for more,” said Salama, “and that’s what we are doing. The vendors along the paved pedestrian-only walkways experienced a 75 percent increase in sales the first weekend in March just after the paving!”

The 55-acre Howard’s Flea Market is currently at 50 percent occupancy with 400 of the 800 covered booths assigned. Even though there is usually a natural dip in occupancy and attendance during Florida’s sweltering summer, the improvements and plans in the process might encourage vendors and shoppers to return.

“Our philosophy is not to just patch; we will do no Band-Aids. We want to fix it and make it stay strong for the next 10 years,” declared Salama.

The property sale closing with Swap-O-Rama occurred the beginning of the 2017 fall season. Alice Cushman agreed to help with the transition and stay on to end of season through this month.

If you’re considering renting a booth at Howard’s Flea Market, give them a call 352-628-2532, or go by and enjoy the upbeat social atmosphere and see what you can find at 6373 S. Suncoast Blvd, Homosassa, FL.

About Donna Blevins, PhD. Donna is a mindshift expert and author of MindShift On Demand: QUICK Life-Changing Tools.  Visit the book site www.MindShiftOnDemand.com and reach her at Donna@DonnaBlevins.com.

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