Soon after the pandemic started, an informal ‘Flea Market’ appeared where the old Coppermine Road used to connect to AZ98 and N20. The informal market had no managers, no fees and no paperwork. Walking between rows of tables and booths on my first visit last summer, there was a great selection of jewelry, art and food. I thought to myself, “What a great thing to have in Page, a unique opportunity for visitors and locals to experience local culture!” The market was pretty big on weekends and smaller during the week. As word got around, the number of vendors and visitors increased. Vendors started coming from as far away as New Mexico. Most live in Page and LeChe’e.
From left to right:
A vendor selling produce and clothing talks to a friend. Photos by Phil Clark.
Barricade at former flea market entrance on private land.
“Cheii,” a famous chef on the reservation, grills mutton, hamburgers and other meals.
A jewelry vendor looks on while a customer takes a closer look.
On February 1, the city of Page put up “No Trespassing” signs on both private and city land, to prevent the flea market from appearing there again. Vendors were caught by surprise.
Before the pandemic, some vendors sold their wares at a wide spot on highway N20, informally known as “Mutton Curve”, between the intersection of N20 with AZ98 and the community of LeChe’e, just outside of the Page City Limits.
When the Navajo Nation closed its lands to public gatherings during the pandemic, Mutton Curve was also closed, leaving people trying to support their families in the lurch. The vendors objected that when it rains it gets muddy, and traffic into and out of Mutton Curve is perhaps worse than at Coppermine. It is also small, out of the way and not as easy to get in and out of, making it less likely to be visited by locals and visitors. According to Renee Tsosie, Chapter Manager, vendors may return to Mutton Curve, but it is entirely at their own risk.
Around January 2022, vendors with loads of firewood started showing up on the abandoned Coppermine Road, a former public right of way. According to the private landowner and the City of Page, vendors did not ask permission to set up booths. As the market became better known, more vendors started setting up tables and booths on the old pavement. Visitors and locals soon discovered that this was a great place to buy souvenirs, native American jewelry, art, and food. Locals and visitors learned of the flea market driving by or by word of mouth. Some visitors learned about the market when their guides took them there or discovered it themselves. Waiting for his meal, one visitor remarked “Where else can you buy Navajo jewelry and have a Navajo Burger at the same place in Page?”
According to Coconino County property records, the abandoned right of way and surrounding land is owned mostly by the City of Page with about 8 acres owned by Page Steel LLC. The private land extends some 200 feet from the intersection. The rest of the road is owned by the City of Page, including the other end of the abandoned public road where it intersects Coppermine Road.
Doug Gardner, owner of Page Steel LLC, said he was being urged by the city to close the market on his land due to traffic and liability issues. Gardner, who grew up in Page and is a prominent member of the community, said he was uncomfortable with the closure. He said “I don’t want to be the bad guy” and would entertain leasing the land.
On January 21, according to several vendors, a city employee handed out flyers to all of the vendors inviting them to a one-time “Sweetheart Flea Market” organized by the City of Page on February 11 on Elm Street in downtown Page.
The other half of the flyer read: “This is private property and will be posted ‘NO TRASPESING’ (sic) as of February 1, 2023.” This was the only notice vendors were given to leave, some 10 days later. Vendors seemed baffled that the city would suddenly shut down such a successful market and felt that if there were problems, they could work with the city in solving them. Many vendors said they’d gladly pay a fee to be able to sell and were not asked to. According to the City Manager, if there is enough interest in the February 11 market, the city is prepared to have an ongoing market once or twice per month.
I first heard of this issue from a neighbor on January 19 and from several Facebook posts. Some of the quotes from the post are:
“Best place to set up would be the area the city cleared for overflow parking from horseshoe bend. Could come to an agreement w/ the city to use on the weekends? Or the parking lot in front of Ace where they used to sell cars? Both are city owned an agreement could be made.” - Chandler B
“I found beautiful gifts and great food on a fun, cold shopping day before Christmas. The City of Page is definitely missing out on not making space for a regular local market that includes Native vendors.” - Lisa R
“The flea market is a hidden gem in town. It’s also the only affordable place to get a hot meal unless you want taco bell.” - Dusty F
“The flea market is not only for the locals but the tourism in our town. I hope they figure something out soon because it benefits the local economy. The businesses in Page should be proactive in working to help keep the flea market open … I hope that everyone works together to find a solution in a positive way.” - Pamela S
A request to meet with city officials resulted in a phone call with City Manager Darren Coldwell that lasted about twelve minutes. The City Manager did not have time to discuss the questions I had. He said that the city had been discussing the issue of the market for ‘six months’ and that it is the city’s position that the market must be closed because of the traffic safety issues. According to Coldwell, he understands that “there have been one to two accidents each month”. A request to the Page Police Department for accident and other incident reports for the flea market location remains unanswered. Coldwell didn’t cite any other reasons. When I asked whether the Chapter leadership was contacted and about the vendors being “kicked out” he became defensive and the call ended soon afterwards.
In a long in-person interview with Renee Tsosie, Manager of the LeChe’e Chapter House, Tsosie said that no one from the City of Page approached her about closing the market. The first she heard about the closure was from community members after they received the flyer on January 21. She said most of the vendors at the market are from Page and some are from LeChe’e and the closure will make it even more difficult for people to make a living and survive after the closure of the Navajo Generating Station.
Tsosie said it is unfortunate that the City of Page hasn’t reached out to the Chapter on issues of mutual concern. The Chapter has a good working relationship with Coconino County and a good history of working with Page Mayor Diak, but it seems the cooperation has fallen apart from there.
Tsosie expressed desire to work with the City and wants a change to the current paradigm. Given a chance, Tsosie would ask the city leadership “We are neighbors and we will be here for a long time. What footprints will we leave behind for our younger generation? When do we start working together?”
Tsosie said that residents of LeChe’e work on events with the City including “Page Attacks Trash” for which a local Navajo-owned business funds the lunch for the cleanup event.
On January 28 there were around 30 to 40 vendors set up and most were aware of being “kicked out”, in their words. Vendors acknowledged the possible traffic safety issues and many said that traffic and other issues could be fixed by closing off the end of Coppermine Road that is on private land and open the other end, on City land, to the market. Vendor booths could be limited to one side of the abandoned road to reduce vehicle/ pedestrian conflicts.
According to many vendors I spoke with, none were asked to discuss the situation with the city. They were suddenly given a ten-day advance trespass notice. One vendor, a resident of Page, expressed regret for voting for the current mayor and city councilors.
On February 2, small construction barricades with printed signs had been installed at all of the entrances to the abandoned public right of way. The signs read: “Private Property No Trespassing” and “City Zoning Code 152.027 Flea Markets Not Allowed in Commercial Zoning District”. A request to the City for a complete copy of the cited code for reference remains unanswered.
The next Page City Council meetings are on February 8 and 22, at 5:30 p.m., in the City Council Chambers at City Hall at 697 Vista Avenue. Vendors are urged to sign up for the free market on February 11 by filling out a form at the city or online at events.cityofpage.org/ sweetheart-flea-market/ or calling Sheri Ptacek at 928-645-4201.
“The community and visitors have longed for and now love this authentic market. The (private) property owner is happy to support Native American and other families and allow it, and any issues are fixable. Why wasn’t any effort made to meet with vendors and look for solutions? The city’s actions feel wrong.” - Maschelle Zia, resident of Page, member and original organizer of the Grand Circle Arts Alliance.