PINELLAS PARK — One of Tampa Bay's most popular flea markets is going the way of Life magazine, poodle skirts and Jadeite dinnerware.
The longtime owners of the 49er Flea Market sold it for $3.3 million late last month and expect to shut it down as of Nov. 30. The buyer, Horsepower Investments LLC of Port Charlotte, owns Harley-Davidson dealerships and will move its bay area store from St. Petersburg to the nearly 10-acre site on 10525 49th Street N.
Tom Burket, whose grandfather Ned Burket started the 49er, said the family received an offer it couldn't refuse.
"We're all mourning a bit," he said Monday. "I've probably had 20 conversations with dealers and it's tough. When we were growing up, we'd have Christmas out here, we'd play hide and go seek. It's definitely going to be hard not to have this property in the family."
Since the mid 1970s, bargain hunters lured by the weathered "Find Your Treasure at the 49er" sign have prowled the rows of booths covered with all manner of stuff, some of it junk, but also valuable antiques and collectibles. More than a few of the items in local antique malls come from the 49er, one of the few bay area fleas that eschews new items like T-shirts, cosmetics and diabetic socks in favor of the old and well-loved.
"It's a good flea market with a lot of different dealers with a lot of different things," dealer Karen Stoever said. Like many dealers, she rents a space at a local mall — St. Petersburg's Patty & Friends — but also buys and sells at the 49er.
Ken Davis, who runs the 49er's Golden Nugget snack bar, said the market got its start when Burket, his father-in-law, grew tired of his construction business.
"So he had his guys build a couple of tables and he set a few tables out and overnight people said, 'Can I set up?' and it just grew," Davis recalled. "By the time I got here in '82 it was huge."
A close-knit community of customers and dealers, the 49er has hosted birthday parties, memorial services and even weddings. Burket once had to pay a preacher $20 after the bride skipped out on the groom.
After a transient raped dealer Audrey Mulligan in her condo in 2007, other dealers stepped in to help. Some took her flowers in the hospital. One changed the locks on her door so she would feel safer when she returned home. Another posted a composite of the suspect that led to his arrest and life sentence for murder after Mulligan died of injuries suffered in the attack.
In recent years, the popularity of eBay and competition from much larger flea marks like the Wagon Wheel a few miles way have eroded the 49er's business. Although the market typically rented out all of its booths on Sunday during the peak winter months, efforts to spur Saturday sales fizzled.
Follow trends affecting the local economy
Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
"You really have to spend money and we just didn't have big gala things," Davis said.
Horsepower Investments, which owns Bert's Barracuda Harley in St. Petersburg, is expected to raze Ned Burket's former house on the property but may keep two large buildings after the dealer booths are cleared of furniture, ephemera and thousands of tchotchkes.
Stoever expects some dealers to try the large Monday-only flea market in Webster. Others may set up at the Mustang in Pinellas Park although it lacks the 49er's covered booths, electrical hookups and convenient parking.
The 49er will be missed.
"Webster is like 90 minutes from here and it's sometimes pricey," Stoever said, "and the Mustang is not as dealer friendly as the 49er."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.