Recent improvements to the downtown square aren’t making Billie Ruth Standbridge’s life any easier right now.
Standbridge must’ve left the room momentarily when it came time for the Downtown Business Alliance to vote on the person to handle next weekend’s booth assignments for the Flea Market on the Square. Otherwise, she surely would have protested the injustice.
Actually, Standbridge has taken on the thankless job with her usual gusto and good nature, the same qualities that made her the first-ever recipient of the business alliance’s Growth and Renewal Award at the 2009 Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce Membership Banquet. DBA President Rita Edwards, when presenting the award, called Standbridge “one of the most energetic, dedicated, passionate and determined people I have ever met.”
The Downtown Business Alliance started hosting flea markets on the square four years ago, with the city of Sulphur Springs Department of Tourism taking over the reins temporarily in 2009.
Now the downtown merchants are in charge again, putting on the show just as city crews have begun ripping up large chunks of downtown streets and sidewalks as they start the process or renovating downtown.
That hasn’t slowed down interest in vendors, artisans and others who traditionally have come to the outdoor bazaar to hawk their goods.
Earlier this week, Standbridge had commitments to fill up about 70 booths at the Flea Market, and was confident that at least 75 spaces would be taken up by the start of the event on Saturday, May 15.
That number had changed drastically by Friday.
“We are already at 83, with numerous applications sent out today, so I figure we’re going to be up in the 90s,” Standbridge said. “In starting back over, our focus has been on getting our vendors back, but I don’t know if I emphasized the importance of, not just having enough vendors, but how important it is to have enough customers.”
The number of customers have never caused a problem — there’s always plenty of room when the square is blocked off from traffic, and the Flea Market runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., so there’s no real “rush hour.”
What Standbridge has had to juggle is the loss of booth spaces on the northwest end of the square. City crews recently tore up the roadway where Connally and Gilmer streets intersect. A temporary road cut out other spots on the courthouse parking lot.
That doesn’t face Standbridge.
“We’re determined to put on a flea market with the same value as in the past, even though when people arrive it’s going to seem quite different,” she said.
In fact, some of the changes are a blessing in disguise. For example, the removal of the World War II memorials, park area and fences on the southeast corner of the square has opened up space in that area that never existed before. It will also make it easier for some vendors to unload their goods by improving access to the courthouse lot.
For other vendors who have to park farther away, Downtown Business Alliance member Eugene Edwards of Edwards Used Cars graciously supplies a trailer to help anyone needing assistance carry their merchandise to their space.
While things may be a little more crowded than usual, safety won’t be a concern.
“The entire square is blocked off to cars,” Standbridge said. “You can’t get in on Connally, Main Street is closed for the Farmers’ Market, and you can’t turn onto the square from Church Street — the cars would be within feet of the vendors, to say nothing of people walking. That didn’t seem very realistic.”
This is the first flea market of the year but won’t be the last. Another is scheduled to be held Saturday, Sept. 25. By then, a lot of the construction projects may be completed, which would make the job of organizing the event a bit easier logistically.
Either way, expect to find Standbridge helping out at full force. As Rita Edwards said in 2009, “She's one of those people that when you give them a task, they attack it full force — you just stand back and let the dust fly.”
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