WEBER CITY, Va. (WJHL) – Most volunteer fire departments across the region host annual fundraisers to keep the doors open, as state and local funding only takes them so far.
The Weber City Volunteer Fire Department in May unveiled its new fire station along US Highway 23 – the main vein that runs through the town. The facility is not operational yet because it has yet to be renovated. The renovation price tag is well over $1 million.
“Right now, we finance the building and the property, and we’re trying to fundraise to raise the $1.2 million it’s going to take to do this building,” said Weber City VFD Public Information Officer Hunter Hensley.
He explained the VFD receives some funding from the state and on a local level, but it’s not nearly enough to negate fundraising.
“We’re probably able to cover 60% of our operational cost from what we get from the state and the county. The rest of it’s up to grants and donations and fundraising activity,” Hensley said.
And so the VFD members stood in front of their new building, looked out across the vast parking lot, and noticed the cars continuously passing by.
“When we bought this property and had the empty parking lot outside, we came up with the idea of trying a flea market,” Hensley said.
This was not the first time this parking lot was considered for the location of a flea market.
“It was a traffic thing,” Hensley said. “There are close to 30,000 cars a day that goes through this red light out here. And people used to have yard sales here a long time ago. The Mann’s strawberries stand up there, they always set up here every year. So they think it’s worth setting up, and the people that used to own it actually had a sign for no yard sales. So people must have been trying to do this a lot in the past. So we said if it doesn’t work, what have we lost?”
About a dozen stalls are set up nearly every day to sell their products at the Weber City VFD flea market.
Sarah Powers owns R&S Custom Tees and More with her partner Rhonda. As gas prices inflated, Powers said she could not afford to drive to Wise County to set up her stall anymore, so when the opportunity came up to support first responders and sell her products close to home, she was ecstatic.
“We, in our little business, like to give back and we want to help,” she said.
The pair custom print just about any design onto just about any surface, Powers explained. They also handmake several pieces of jewelry and hair accessories.
“We can do just about anything. We’ll do logos, car decals. We do a lot of stuff,” she said.
The stall next door houses J&L Produce which is owned by Jimmy Carter — the produce vendor, not the former president.
Carter went to a local doctor’s office one day in March and drove by the Weber City VFD’s new building. He noticed the sign warding off those hoping to run small stands in the parking lot had been removed.
“I asked them I said, ‘can I come here and start selling produce?’ and they said ‘yeah.’ I’ve been here since,” Carter said proudly.
Carter’s stand is one of the few that opens every day.
“7 to 7 if we have to, but we’re here. I love the people, this is a good bunch of people to deal with and they love you like a family,” he said.
Some vendors might be local, like Gate City High School graduate David Browder, but schedules do not permit them to open their stands daily.
Browder is a member of the popular gospel music group, The Browders. When he was in high school, he said he had two dreams – to be a successful gospel music singer like his parents and to have his own clothing line.
“I had some time off from the road, from our busy touring schedule, and I told my wife I said ‘I think I will get a tent and I’m gonna go set up at the Weber City flea market,'” Browder told News Channel 11.
Both his dreams had come true. The Browder Brand clothing line consists of shirts, dresses, lanyards, hats and more.
Browder’s sons, Ethan and Elijah, joined him at the flea market to sell their clothing. They said they wear the branded clothing to school and some other students at Gate City Middle and High schools wear the brand as well.
“It’s so exciting,” Browder said as his sons confirmed the comfort of the 100% cotton shirts. “I just thank God, just seeing my dreams starting to come true.”
Since the VFD is a non-profit organization, they cannot charge vendors a fee or “rent” spaces in their little makeshift flea market, but Hensley said the vendors have been great supporters of the first responder agency.
“They donate to us for every parking spot they have, they always give us something so it works out for everybody,” Hensley said.
The new facility won’t be fully operational for at least another two years, but they have hopes to keep the flea market open in a small capacity, so as not to hinder the emergency services once fully open.