More than a hundred or so people turned out Friday to celebrate the changes at the Lehigh Acres Flea Market. Part of the celebration was a feast catered by Good to Go. Friends, visitors and others were invited to attend the hour and a half celebration and tour the flea market.
There was also music provided by the Church of the King, at 235 Joel Blvd. The church band performed and played praise and worship music with singer Karen Martinez.
Among some of the local politicos who showed up were Lee County Commissioners Frank Mann and Ray Judah. Others were Rep. Matthew Caldwell and State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, along with Mike Welch, chairman of the East County Water Board, and board member Nate Stout.
Man on bike travels Lehigh promoting the Lehigh Flea Market.
The Lehigh Acres Flea Market, a landmark in Lehigh for about a half century, was celebrating the improvements that have been made after code violations were corrected.
"We are glad to see so many here and it was all word of mouth," said Mike Lippke, the manager of the flea market, said. The flea market is located off of Beth Stacey Boulevard and Homestead Road, near the Lehigh County Sheriff's Office substation.
"The support for our flea market has been tremendous and by next week, we hope to have everything in compliance," Lippke said.
Property owner Eugen Borosch, a Lehigh businessman, said Lehigh was showing great support for the flea market. He said there was nothing to fear because the flea market will be in Lehigh for a long time.
Some months ago, the flea market was cited for some violations after complaints were made. Mostly, structures outside did not meet code ordinances, which say vendors must have a certain type of tent and it must be fire resistant.
There were 60 vendors at the flea market and many were people trying to make a living, Lippke said. When they learned that it would cost them $350 to buy an outside tent as required by the county, some said they did not have the extra money and would have to shut down until they could save the money to buy a tent.
The dignitaries were given a tour of the flea market, both inside of the building and outside.
While the flea market seemed to be packed with visitors, at least one businessman in town said he was not going to attend.
Rick Anglickis e-mailed business associates and asked, "Support for what?"
"Mike Welch or Eugen Borosch or the 17 fire and county code violations that have been broken and ignored. While there, please feel free to use hot water and wash your hands before eating your food and be sure to do it in a bathroom. I have my bathroom, fire extinguisher, certificate of occupancy and license to do business. I'm sure you have yours, too. Want to bet how many businesses there have the same? Sorry, I won't be there. I have better things to do than be a pawn in this game," Anglickis wrote.
Thomas W. Pfuner, vice president of I&E Realty and EchoStar Construction, said he agreed with Anglickis "doing what we are trying to do in Lehigh.
"We should not ignore the code/fire code violations. There can and must only be one standard, and I think there are other ways if one wants to support Lizbeth Benaquisto and Matt Caldwell," Pfuner said.
However, corrections to some violations have been made and more are to come, said Lippke.
There were local business people who attended, in addition to those who hold public office. Caldwell was enjoying the event in a big straw hat.
Judah and Mann said they enjoyed the event. Mann even gave a very brief speech praising the flea market.
A consultant for Borosch and Welch explained that it was an opportunity to show the community the "gem" Lehigh has.
Lippke said many of the vendors who pulled out because they could not afford the tents would return next week and perhaps new vendors, too.
He said they would have an outside mobile food unit approved by county officials by October so hot food could be served.
While the flea market has been called an "eyesore" by a couple of business people, another community activist in Lehigh - well-known as a hard worker on the Community Council of Lehigh Acres, the Lehigh Acres Planning Panel and other organizations - sent out an e-mail urging people to attend the event.
"Just a reminder to everyone that State Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto and State Rep. Matt Caldwell will be touring the Lehigh Acres Flea Market. It would probably be beneficial if we had some representation at this meeting to show our support (of the flea market)," the e-mail said.
The flea market has become a tourist attraction in Lehigh and it is facing Microtel Suites & Inn. Many who visit Lehigh come from the hotel to visit the flea market, but its most successful season is in the fall and winter when snowbirds come south, according to the vendors.
While the flea market has become somewhat controversial for some, Borosch said Lehigh Acres should not worry.
"The flea market is here to stay," he said. "It's an old Lehigh landmark and with the improvements that have been made, there is something here for just about everyone.
"And many of the vendors here support their families from the income. If they leave, they are finding it difficult to find ways to support themselves. I hope the people of Lehigh will continue to support the flea market, and for those who don't know about the gem in our community, tell your friends. It's a great place to visit and you won't find friendlier vendors and finer things that are being sold, such as fruit and vegetables, and shrubs and trees," he said. "In the building, there is Oscar the tomato man and next to him is a great place where one can find almost anything old for bargain prices, and inside the building, there are appliances for sale, clothes, computers, an upholstering shop and more.
"We are here to stay. You can bet on it," Borosch said.