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After six decades, drive-in flea market to close

Traditional Wednesday market to move from old movie location to the Shell Factory

By CHUCK BALLARO - | May 26, 2021

The sign for the North Fort Myers Flea Market. Wednesday will be the last time the market will be held at the former drive-in. Those vendors will now come to the Shell Factory on Wednesdays with the markets there to continue on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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The North Fort Myers Drive-in was among the first real go-to attractions in the area and, when it wasn’t showing movies, it was the place to go to buy produce, artwork, clothing and hunt for bargains at the Wednesday flea market.

On Wednesday, after nearly 60 years and a full 25 after it stopped showing movies, the North Fort Myers Flea Market will open for the final time, as the property where the drive-in used to sit is reportedly set to become the home of an RV and boat storage facility.

The Wednesday flea market will move to a new location, the Shell Factory, where many of its vendors have space at both locations.

Kenny Johns, manager of the market, said the flea markets started there in 1962, five days a week, and he would go and buy things there for many years before he started selling things there on his own in 1992.

Johns lived across the woods when the drive-in theater opened in 1948, when he was 5 years old.

“When they started, they put a white tarp up connected to a light pole. You could sit at your house and watch the movie backwards because you could see the other side of it,” Johns said.

During season, it could be very difficult to find parking as people would arrive at the 6 a.m. open (when it was still dark) to get a head start on the best deals. By noon, the place would be nearly empty.

“It was the only flea market open on Wednesday. The others on Ortiz and Fleamasters were closed. We had sheriff deputies directing traffic on the highway,” John said. “It was a tremendous draw up until the pandemic, where we closed for a month.”

John said they had 200-plus vendors during season and roughly 100 during the summer months. Those vendors will now come to the Wednesday market that Johns will manage along with Richard Dunmire, who manages the flea markets at the Shell Factory the other three days on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“Kenny will run the Wednesday market exactly the way he did over there because it was so successful and people were used to it,” Johns said. “We want to keep that going.”

Johns’ system had those who paid monthly and regularly got first dibs on the best locations, usually the same one they had for years. The rest set up at any locations that remained.

“It was a tradition. It was North Fort Myers like the Shell Factory and later the bowling alley. I know we have to move on but I feel bad it’s going to be here,” Dunmire said.

The loss of the drive-in was sad for some.

Pete Teklak, who sold items there before settling at the Shell Factory, said he has a lot of vendor friends who work there and that it was just a sign of progress.

“I know it’s sad. Of course, it’s the end of an era because anything that’s been open 60 years feels like that, but this whole country is changing and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Teklak said.

The Shell Factory is at 16554 N. Cleveland Ave., North Fort Myers.