PINELLAS PARK — A Pinellas County landmark is the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Huntley family announced June 10 on Facebook that the Wagon Wheel and Mustang flea markets off Park Boulevard are closed for good.
"To our beloved vendors and patrons, it is with a heavy-heart that we share with you the news that the Wagon Wheel and Mustang Flea Markets will not be reopening. After almost 55 years of continuous business the time has come for us to say farewell. Thank all of you for your patronage and support. This has been the most difficult decision we have ever made as a family. We wish you all the best. It is with tears and fond memories that we say goodbye and thank you."
The market, which is in unincorporated Pinellas County, had been closed since March as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
A look back
Created in 1966 by Hardy Huntley who arrived here in 1958 in a beatup Oldsmobile, the market has gravitated into a place where young and old and the rich and the poor congregate.
The market’s name is not the work of a marketing genius. Huntley had an old wagon wheel he’d found on the property, affixed it to a pole and, hence, the Wagon Wheel moniker.
The 150-acre property was purchased piecemeal over a number of years.
“It was a shell pit and there was a large vein of them that was mined to build Pinellas County’s early roads,” Huntley told Tampa Bay Newspapers in 2007.
Huntley quit high school, later earned a general education diploma, and hung out with “the bad boys” of his native North Carolina. He arrived in Florida at 22 with military service behind him and a knack for making money.
“I worked in a supermarket for 75 cents an hour,” he said. “Later I built Hardy’s, a drive-thru restaurant where Shoppes at Park Place Mall on U.S. 19 now stands.”
It was there that he met his wife, Janet.
Huntley and his former partner and friend Norman Scoggins bought land across from where the Wagon Wheel now stands. Park Boulevard was a crushed shell road and they set up a used car dealership. They made enough money to buy a 4-acre tract on what would become the flea market.
“We did nothing with it for almost a year,” Huntley said. “Then someone came up with the idea to sell used items.”
Calling it “Trade Days,” each weekend people paid $2 to rent space on the property. While merchants sold their wares, Huntley was hawking food and soft drinks.
More acreage was purchased in pieces. The land also was used as a dump for appliances, wood, tree stumps and everything else except actual garbage.
The merchandise was changing. It was better, and new. Huntley launched the Mustang Flea Market on land that now is the home of a Lowe’s.
The Mustang was relocated next to the Wagon Wheel.
Huntley died in 2013 at the age of 77 and it is now run by his family.