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Weekly sidewalk sale is a college collage

Every Wednesday morning, the sidewalk in front of Cooper Hall at the University of South Florida (USF) becomes a miniature bazaar. It's the site of the USF flea market, where vendors or representatives of student organizations set up tables and spend the day selling their wares, promoting a cause or informing students about campus activities.

The flea market originated in 1976 as a way for student organizations to raise funds and recruit new members. It became a way to gather vendors who had been selling their goods on campus into one group. Originally, it was in front of University Center.

Though the location has changed, avid shoppers still can take advantage of a bargain bonanza from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Wednesday.

Luis Guerrero owns a sportswear store in Madeira Beach, but he likes to sell at USF, too.

Guerrero said he offers students a "super bargain" with tie-dyed jumpsuits for $13.99. He said that they regularly are $24.99 at his store.

Elsewhere, other vendors display handwritten signs: Men's and women's shorts are "three for $10." T-shirts are "four for $10."

If that dreary corner of the living room is still empty, large straw baskets can be purchased for $7 apiece.

"I've gotten hair things for cheap," USF student Keri Champion said. "And when people are decorating their dorms and apartments, they go out there (to the flea market) and get posters and plants and stuff."

Other vendors are students who are trying to make a few extra dollars. For some, it's a way to get money to pay for school.

Michelle Knight makes craft items such as magnets and napkin holders from wood and sells them at the market. She plans to use the money she makes to help pay for her classes.

"Every little bit helps," Knight said. "I used to have a full-time job, but I enjoy this."

But the flea market boasts more than bargains. Darden Rice, a 20-year-old USF student and project coordinator for Florida Public Interest Research Group's "Green Voter Campaign," sets up her table each Wednesday in hopes of encouraging students to help pressure state politicians into taking an environmental stand.

"We reach a lot of people here," Rice said. "People are pretty friendly and receptive."

Niraj Patel of the Cooperative Education Program also tries to reach students via the flea market.

"There are a lot of people who don't know about (the program)," Patel said. "It (the flea market) helps out a lot."

Those who are not USF students must pay $10 to set up a table at the flea market. The cost for USF students is $3 and student organizations can set up for free.

For information or to set up a table, call 974-5309.