Happy’s Flea Market declared unsafe
Dozens of vendors at Happy’s Flea Market in Roanoke spent the day packing up after city officials declared the building unsafe Tuesday. The notice stated that the building cannot be occupied “until repairs have been made and inspected” by Roanoke code enforcement officials. Nearly 50 merchants rent space in the 90,000 square foot structure.
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Boomies owner Maria Mirzayan said she has been selling jewelry, handbags and other goods from her booth at Happy’s for 30 years. Her business helped her provide for her two children and allowed her to make friends with numerous customers, she said.
“I don’t have any other place to go right now,” Mirzayan said. “I don’t like how they came out here and shut it down like this. We were all misled.”
Roanoke Planning Director Chris Chittum said the city decided to take action because the building’s owner, Manassas based RTM Roanoke Expo LLC, had ignored repeated code violation notices since 2013. He said the “roof is leaking rather profusely” into the electrical system.
Officials were concerned about how a closure might impact vendors, he said: “That’s why we have taken so long to do what we had to do.”
Chittum said inspectors have examined the property at least 10 times since 2013. Dan Webb, a Roanoke code compliance official, said inspectors had been to Happy’s so many times they did not document every visit.
Since the city began looking into the property, conditions have only worsened, Chittum said. He said an official inspected the building again Tuesday morning before the notice was issued.
Happy’s manager Harvey Murdoch said city officials told him they were conducting a routine walk through Tuesday morning, but 10 minutes after they arrived, vendors began calling with news of the pending closure.
Murdoch would comment neither on the company’s plans nor whether vendors would be reimbursed for recent rent payments. Officials at RTM Roanoke Expo’s headquarters could not be reached Tuesday.
Buddy Montgomery, co owner of Basement Toys and Comics, said Murdoch told him that as manager he “didn’t have power to issue back rent.” Vendors pay $100 to $1,500 a month, Montgomery said. He declined to say how much he paid for his space.
During a meeting with vendors Tuesday morning, city code inspector Don Gillispie said they could make an appointment with his office to clear out their remaining goods later.
“The city don’t want to put people out of business. We like business,” Gillispie said during the meeting. “But there comes a point in time when the city has taken on responsibility for your safety and the safety of the people coming in here.”
Gillispie said merchants who set up shop in the flea market parking lot will be allowed to sell their wares as long as vendors don’t require electricity from the building.
According to the notice handed out Tuesday, the building’s owners will have to prove that repairs have been made to the roof and electrical systems. Owners also will have to provide an emergency exit plan and the building will have to pass a fire inspection.
A second document provided to merchants lists at least 15 violations requiring repairs in a “workmanlike manner.” Those violations include a gas water heater installed in the women’s restroom without a permit, loose or missing bricks near the roof that could allow in rainwater and a large hole in the fence bordering the premises.
City Treasurer Evelyn Powers said RTM owes $27,415.02 in back real estate taxes this fiscal year. Four notices regarding the amount have been sent to the owners in Manassas, she said.
RTM Roanoke Expo was formed in 2002, according to the State Corporation Commission. The company’s LLC registration was canceled in 2013 over the failure to pay a $50 renewal fee. RTM can regain its status if it pays past fees along with a reinstatement fee, said commission spokesman Ken Schrad.
The company purchased the Williamson Road site in 2007 for $2.65 million, according to city property records.
Webb, the code compliance official, said the city first issued an order threatening to shut Happy’s down in May 2013. At first, Webb said, the owners worked with the city and hired contractors. But repairs slowed by December 2013, when city officials warned that the building could be condemned if the owners didn’t fix the roof and repair the electrical system.
In early January 2014, the city lifted the condemnation status after an engineer’s review of the roof found that while it had problems, it was not structurally unsound.
An engineer hired by Happy’s recommended that the owners replace the exterior of the roof and remove buckets and plastic children’s pools placed in the rafters to catch leaking water.
In November, RTM was fined $2,500 for building code violations. A judge suspended $2,000 of those fines under the condition that the building’s problems be resolved by May.
On Thursday, city officials met with Happy’s owners for a Roanoke General District Court hearing to address the violations. Though records show the owners paid the $500 fine, prosecutors argued that the required changes had not been made in time.
Judge Jacqueline Talevi ordered RTM to pay the remaining $2,000 in fines, which the company did the next day, according to online court records. Talevi dismissed fire prevention code and contempt of court charges against Murdoch.
Webb said inspectors had been observing the roof leaks for two weeks before Thursday’s hearing. Since conditions did not appear to be improving, officials decided to wait until the court hearing concluded before issuing the closure notice.
“It’s a culmination of working with them over a very long period of time and not getting a response and getting the repairs made in a timely manner,” Webb said.