Work begins to redevelop old Happy's Flea Market in Roanoke

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7)-- In Roanoke City, an iconic building is getting a multi-million dollar makeover. The former Happy's Flea Market has sat, largely untouched, since its 2016 closure. The building was a place where you could buy and sell games, toys and collectibles. But soon, it'll be a place where you can store all those things.

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For Roanokers, it is a reference point for time.

"I can remember it when I was a kid," said Lori Bellanger.

And it's a reference point for place.

"That's our selling point as well when we have to give location," said Bellanger, the corporate recruiter for Action Personnel. "We tell everyone that's where we are."

Where Lori Bellanger and her coworkers are is in the best seat in the house to watch the renovation, just across the street.

"So now we walk up each day and walk in to see what all the progress is," she said.

Tuesday, a crew was on site, both inside the building and on the roof.

"So what they're doing is they're putting the rack system up for the power supply for the power to come into the building for the lights and the HVAC system," said site superintendent Theodore Hodges.

He said work began just a few weeks ago, following an extensive gutting process. They've cleared and restored the building to eventually house a drive-through storage center.

"The new roof's in place and they're up there just finishing it up," he said. "Sealing it so it's 100 percent water tight."

But the site is slated to be more than just a storage facility.

"I think it's gonna be a good boost in the arm," said Valerie Brown, Director of the Williamson Road Area Business Association.

Brown has been in contact with developer Jim Cherney, who bought the 11-acre site in 2018.

Cherney plans to add retail space and two detached buildings up front. His goal is to invite multicultural entrepreneurial businesses into the retail spaces. He envisions creating one of the outbuildings for a bank and another for a "boutique" business.

"He wants to encourage those people who are thinking about starting a business or expanding a business," Brown said. "He just wants to bring back some of the vibrancy that was here and bring back all that to Williamson Road as you go through."

Cherney says this 15-million-dollar project should be done by September, by which time he hopes to make as many people as possible happy with the outcome.

But not everyone is thrilled with the business coming in Happy's Place. Local Will Sellari, who once created the "Save Happy's" Facebook group, told WDBJ7 Tuesday:

"It was always our hope that Happy’s could have made a comeback. Through neglect and disinterest by the conglomerate who owned the business, that unfortunately never came to be. We will miss the sense of community, commerce and opportunity that Happy’s uniquely provided. We hope that the new owners will bring back some of the things that made Happy’s so special and fill that loss in our city."

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