Thousands of shoppers looking for bargain-basement savings converged at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens on Sunday — the center’s final day of operation.
The 600,000-square-foot trade center, located on 58 acres of a former race track on North River Road along Interstate 94 was jammed with a car show outside in the parking lot and people looking for sales on everything from cassette tapes to computers.
Karl and Leslie Cushing came all the way from Ortonville looking for a bargain — and they found it in used clothing display racks for their daughter.
“It’s sad that it’s closing because it’s been here for most of my life,” said Leslie Cushing. “We went down every aisle, looking at every item until we found what we were looking for.”
Center officials said traffic was brisk all weekend, as shoppers looked to take advantage of 90-percent discounts for the last days of the trade center.
Brian Chumbler of Rochester Hills has been a weekend regular at the center, selling various electronic items from his booth, EZ Custom Solutions. A 14-year veteran, he saw warning signs for a likely closing of the center in recent years.
“I saw this coming five years ago,” Chumbler said. “Business began dropping off right after the housing bubble burst. Then it kept on decreasing every week to the point where I was losing $ 30,000 to $ 60,000 a year in sales. It just kept dropping.”
While some vendors were opting to go online or look for new facilities, Chumbler said he invested in himself to work in cyber security out of his home.
“This place has been great to me, I thank God for the life it has given me,” he said. “I look at this as a blessing from God. When one door closes, another opens with better opportunities.”
The Mount Clemens location shutdown comes after the Taylor location was closed in November 2014 after 20 years. The family owners said the Taylor site was shuttered to accommodate a new Menards home improvement store.
The iconic weekend shopping destination became one of the country’s largest indoor flea markets, selling a diverse array of closeout merchandise.
Although most of the 93 vendors had cleared out by Sunday afternoon, there were still lines at many of the remaining ones.
Some vendors said they had made suggestions on how to update the public market to keep it viable, starting with leaks in the roof and digitalizing the center’s derby-wearing “Big Man” sign that greets motorists on I-94. The sign is expected to stay as a landmark.
Owner Bob Koester in July announced the Mount Clemens site was closing. James George, a longtime Clinton Township developer, has purchased the property, but hasn’t yet disclosed his plans, although it is expected to be converted to an industrial park.