For 46 years now the Carroll County Gun Show and Flea Market has reigned as the big show on Labor Day in Southwestern Virginia, bringing crowds that estimates say easily top 100,000 to Hillsville, a town of 2,6oo on normal days.
Started by Veterans of Foreign Wars Grover King Post 1115 as a fundraiser to replace the post’s roof that collapsed in an ice storm in 1967, the annual event has grown into a mega-attraction that clogs roads with traffic, brings much-needed income to a poor rural area and provides residents a chance to turn lots at their homes into parking areas and spots for vendors that offer antiques, junk, knickknacks and food ranging from funnel cakes to turkey legs to full meals.
“Ir’s a happening, that’s for sure,” says North Carolinian Garland, who sells signs and amusement items at the show each year.
The show puts Hillsville Police Chief Greg Bolen patrolling on a bicycle, the best way to wind through the traffic that clogs the town where three U.S. highways — 221, 58 and 52 — converge and where can take a hour or more to inch along the two-mile stretch of 221 and 58 that passes through the middle of the collection of vendor booths and food tents.
Inside the VFW Hall, crowds look at guns, antique coins and collector athletic cards. One vendor said most attendees were looking for .22 and 9mm ammo — both in short supply at gun shows and at gun stores around the country.
Sales, most vendors said, were brisk.
While wind and rain from a storm that roared through on Saturday sent patrons scrambling and vendor trying down flapping tents and loose items, the crowds returned when the skies cleared.
“It always rains at least one day during the flea market,” said Annie Hallway of South Carolina. “Some years are worse than other.”
But the flea market survives and the crowds keep coming.
And the roof replacement that spawned the event 46 years ago.
It was replaced and paid for — many times over.