Letter to the Editor: Closure of Page flea market causes hardship to residents

For the last 18 months, vendors have gathered along an abandoned road. On Feb. 1, the city of Page erected “No Trespassing” signs on both private and city land, to prevent the flea market from appearing there again.

Before the pandemic, vendors set up at a wide spot on Navajo Highway 20, known as “Mutton Curve,” just outside Page city limits. Vendors preferred the site on Coppermine because the old asphalt pavement was better than mud on rainy days, and is smaller and has less access issues.

According to the private land owner and the city of Page, vendors did not ask permission to set up booths. As the market became better known, more vendors set up tables on the old road. Visitors and locals soon discovered this new place to buy souvenirs, Native American jewelry, art and food.

Tour guides, hotels and other lodging sent their guests there. Waiting for his meal, one visitor remarked “Where else can you buy Navajo jewelry and a Navajo Burger at the same place?”

According to county property records, the abandoned road and surrounding land is mostly owned by the city of Page. Around eight acres is owned by Page Steel, some 200 feet from the intersection. The rest is owned by the city, including the other end of the abandoned public road.

Regarding the closure, Doug Gardner, owner of Page Steel, said he was urged by the city to close the market on his land due to traffic and liability issues. Gardner, who grew up in Page and is well-known, said he was uncomfortable with the closure and said “I don’t want to be the bad guy."

According to several vendors, on Jan. 21 a city employee handed out flyers with a registration form for a “Sweetheart Flea Market”, organized by the city, on Feb. 11 on Elm Street.

The other half of the flyer read: “This is private property and will be posted ‘NO TRASPESING’ (sic) as of February 1, 2023.” This was the only notice vendors were given to leave, some 10 days later. Vendors were baffled the city would suddenly shut down such a successful market and felt that if there were problems, they could work with the landowners to solve them. Many vendors said they’d gladly pay a fee to be able to sell and were not asked to.

A request to meet with city officials resulted in a rushed phone call with the city manager that lasted about 12 minutes. The city manager did not want to answer very many questions. He said that city staff had been discussing the issue for "six months" and said that the city’s position is that the market must be closed because of the traffic safety issues. He said that was the only reason.

According to Coldwell, he understands that “there have been one to two accidents each month." When asked whether the Chapter leadership was contacted prior to making the decision, he became defensive and the call ended soon afterwards. A request to the Page Police Department for accident and other incident reports for the flea market location remains unanswered.

Renee Tsosie, manager of the LeChe’e Chapter House, said that no one from the city of Page approached her about closing the market. The first she heard about the closure was from community members after they received the "eviction" notice.

Tsosie said that the market’s closure will make it even more difficult for people to survive after the closure of the Navajo Generating Station.

Tsosie said it is unfortunate that the city of Page hasn’t reached out to the Chapter. Tsosie would like to work with the city and would welcome a change to the current paradigm.

“The flea market is not only for the locals but the tourism in our town. I hope they figure something out soon because it benefits the local economy. The businesses in Page should be proactive in working to help keep the flea market open. . . . I hope that everyone works together to find a solution in a positive way, said Pamela S. on social media.

Tsosie said that residents of LeChe’e work on events with the city including “Page Attacks Trash” for which a local Navajo-owned business funds the lunch for the cleanup event.

Thirty vendors were set up Jan. 28 and most were aware of being "kicked out" and acknowledged the possible traffic safety issues. Many said that traffic issues could be fixed by closing off the end of Coppermine Road that is on private land and open the other end, on city land, to the market. Vendor booths could be limited to one side of the abandoned road to further reduce vehicle/pedestrian conflicts. According to many vendors I spoke with, none of the vendors were asked to discuss the situation with the city.

Construction barricades were installed Feb. 2 with printed signs at all entrances to the abandoned public right of way.

Some vendors have returned to Mutton Curve. The ‘Sweetheart Market” on Feb. 11 seemed to be successful. Around two dozen vendors set up along Elm Street, despite the cold weather. According to the City Manager, if the Sweetheart Market was successful, the city is prepared to have an ongoing market once or twice per month. Many vendors prefer a market more often than once or twice a month. The future will decide what happens.

Phil Clark Page, Arizona

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