By SUSAN MENDE
CANTON -Roughly 50 vendors from the Canton Flea Market gathered Monday outside the store looking for answers from the University Plazas new owner.
David C. Muraco, president of Empire Property Management, Dewitt, traveled from Syracuse to meet with vendors about the future of the flea market.
The market houses about 100 vendor booths and is in limbo because operator Frank E. Monnett is being evicted from the space for putting a stop payment on his July rent check to Mr. Muraco.
Mr. Muraco advised the group to select a leader who could replace Mr. Monnett in running the flea market, at least temporarily, so that the market can re-open after Aug. 3 when the eviction takes effect.
Were going to have to reorganizes here, he told the large group that gathered outside the store at noontime. Someone has to come up with a plan, a good plan. Basically, you need to get together as a group and choose a leader.
Mr. Monnett entered the store while the meeting was taking place, but refused to allow vendors inside to remove their inventory and kept the entrance doors locked. The store has been closed to customers since Friday, although over the weekend some vendors set up shop on the sidewalk to sell their goods. A pile of books, dishes and other items sat outside the store on Monday with a free sign attached.
Mr. Monnet said over the weekend vendors stole all of the soda that was in a cooler and he doesnt want to let them in the store until he removes all of his belongings including items in his own vendor booths.
Asked by a vendor if would unlock the doors, Mr. Monnett responded, I cant deal with that today. Im trying to get all my stuff out so he (Mr. Muraco) can take possession.
Fashion Kraze, a discount clothing store that was housed in the flea market went out of business this spring, but the sign still remains on the buildings exterior.
Domita L. Hogle, a vendor formerly of Colton, said it was unfair for Mr. Monnett to keep vendors from their merchandise.
He screwed us out of thousands of dollars and hes worried about his soda? she said.
Several of the vendors said they want to keep their booths in the plaza, Route 11, because they were doing well with a strong customer base. But uncertainty over the flea markets future has prompted many others to haul away their merchandise since Thursday evening when Mr. Monnett informed them he was being evicted. He also told them he could not pay their July commissions.
Mr. Muraco told vendors he needs to reduce the market space from 40,000 to 30,000 square feet of space and therefore will reduce monthly rent from $5,000 to $3,750. Vendors would also be responsible for paying utilities and insurance.
Although he guaranteed them space through Jan. 1, he said the size could be reduced if he finds other tenants for the plaza.
Save-A-Lot, a grocery store chain operated by Jeffrey Proulx, a Canton native, may rent space in the plaza, Mr. Muraco told vendors.
The new owner said he also plans to spend $125,000 to install a new roof on the leaky section of the flea market store and another $100,000 to repave the plazas parking lot.
Dennis W. Kelly and his wife, Susette M. Kelly, Canton, operate Grandmas Kids which offers used childrens clothing and toys.
Mr. Kelly agreed to lead the vendors and work with Mr. Muraco as they figure out their next steps.
We just have to get enough people to pay the bills so we can go as long as we can, Mr. Kelly said. Its better than leaving the place vacant.
Vendors have been paying Mr. Monnett $150 a month to rent a 150 square-foot booth plus paying him 7.5 percent of their monthly sales. Some vendors rent several booth spaces because they have more merchandise to display.
Denise M. Hess, a vendor from Canton, wants to remain in the flea market and hopes other vendors will join her in sticking together.
This plaza was dead before the flea market, Ms. Hess said. We have regular customers who are saying please keep it open. Without all this drama, people loved being here, the customers and the vendors.
John A. Barksdale, Hermon, rents two booths to display his antique toys. He also wants to stay in the plaza.
If we all can put our minds together and work as a team we can make this operate, Mr. Barksdale said.