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Vendors at popular Canton Flea Market can stay, regroup after owner evicted

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CANTON — Roughly 50 vendors from the Canton Flea Market gathered Monday outside the store looking for answers from the University Plaza’s 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, which houses about 100 vendor booths, is in limbo because operator Frank E. Monnett is being evicted from the space for putting a stop-payment order on his July rent check to Mr. Muraco.

Mr. Muraco advised the vendors to select a leader who could replace Mr. Monnett in running the flea market, at least temporarily, so that the market can continue after Aug. 3, when the eviction takes effect.

“We’re going to have to reorganize here,” he told the group 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 kept the doors locked and refused to allow vendors inside to remove their inventory. 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. Monnett said that over the weekend vendors stole soda that was in a cooler and he doesn’t 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 can’t deal with that today. I’m trying to get all my stuff out so he (Mr. Muraco) can take possession.”

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 he’s worried about his soda?” she said.

Several of the vendors said they want to keep their booths in the Route 11 plaza because they were doing well with a strong customer base. But uncertainty over the flea market’s 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 and therefore will reduce the monthly rent from $5,000 to $3,750. Vendors also would be responsible for paying for utilities and insurance.

Although he guaranteed them space through Jan. 1, Mr. Muraco said the space 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 an additional $100,000 to repave the plaza’s parking lot. New Venture Assets LLC, Dewitt, also owned by Mr. Muraco, bought the plaza in June for $2.1 million.

Dennis W. Kelly and his wife, Susette M. Kelly, Canton, operate Grandma’s Kids, which offers used clothing and toys for children.

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. “It’s 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.

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