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Bargain City pushed as summer home for Saturday Morning Market vendors

Bargain City opened recently in the former Kmart at 3951 34th St. S. The 100,000-square-foot air-conditioned flea market has room for 300 vendors. Founder John Donnellan sees it as an inexpensive spot for Saturday Morning Market regulars to spend summers.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Bargain City opened recently in the former Kmart at 3951 34th St. S. The 100,000-square-foot air-conditioned flea market has room for 300 vendors. Founder John Donnellan sees it as an inexpensive spot for Saturday Morning Market regulars to spend summers.

ST. PETERSBURG

The former Kmart at 3951 34th St. S has been transformed into a 100,000-square-foot air-conditioned flea market.

With Bargain City opening this past week, founder John Donnellan sees an opportunity for Saturday Morning Market vendors seeking a summer home to try the indoor facility.

At 14 cents a square foot, spaces are "as cheap as you can get and still turn the lights on," said Donnellan. With room for 300 vendors, he figures it's just what the local economy needs.

"What I'm trying to do is keep the guys in business who couldn't (make it) in this day and age," said Donnellan, who has opened businesses in Florida and Illinois. "I'm giving them the opportunity to try their wings out here."

The 73-year-old grandfather of three estimates that 20 flea markets dot Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, but most don't offer Bargain City's amenities. He said roughly 25 vendors are signed up month-to-month now, but that number should increase by its official grand opening in August.

"This is a process that's going to take many months to evolve," he said. "The main thing is to get people going again in this economy. You can put a lot of people to work doing this type of thing."

Vendors including Brady Johnson will try it out. The easily iconic Mr. I Got 'Em from the Saturday Morning Market jumped at the chance after officials opted not to run a summer version of the market.

Mr. I Got 'Em was a staple of St. Petersburg 70 years ago, hawking peanuts, fruits and vegetables from the Old Northeast to St. Pete Beach. Johnson hoped life-size portraits of himself in tuxedo and the original Mr. I Got 'Em will further develop his brand.

"I'll start telling people next week where I'll be," he said. "You have to think of it as something that will be positive for the whole south community."

Johnson, one of eight original vendors at the Saturday Morning Market, said Bargain City also will need time to grow.

As a full-time employee of St. Petersburg's sanitation department for the past 40 years, he said he has time to let it.

"It will work if people just have the patience for it to work," he said. "I got the time to let it work. If I'm there to pay my bills, I may not be there long but I think it'll work in the long run."

Mark Johnson also hopes it will succeed, although he remains unsure. Johnson, director of the Saturday Morning Market, said he has offered advice to Bargain City representatives to distinguish flea market-type resale items from farmers market and craft goods.

"It's a viable concept, but I would say there's a definite tension around having flea market-like resale items and having craft people do original work and prepared food vendors," Johnson said. "There's a clear track record that done right, the kind of thing he's doing can succeed; conceptually it can work."

Donnellan remains intent on turning concept into reality over time.

"You have to crawl before you walk before you run," he said.

Bargain City pushed as summer home for Saturday Morning Market vendors 05/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 2:26pm]

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