PORT RICHEY — For the past 27 years, Jay Tarr has catered to a steady stream of customers at his auto interior business outside the popular USA Flea Market on U.S. 19.
Tarr, 47, had just reached adulthood when he started Headliners Only and made a decent living here, he said — thanks to a low overhead of just $750 a month for three garage bays.
But now Tarr has to look for a new location. Pasco County officials say the landlord failed to invest in basic health and safety protections at the 40-acre property, creating what one called the most dangerous property he's seen in 40 years on the job.
USA Flea Market, in business for five decades, was ordered to shut down Wednesday after receiving hundreds of citations. Buildings there lack functioning fire alarms and sprinkler systems, have no clear exits and are marred by exposed electrical wiring, according to the county Fire Marshal's Office.
"There is simply no real fire protection on this property at all," said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco's assistant county administrator.
James Hunt, the Pasco code enforcement officer who called the property dangerous, told reporters that ceiling rafters are splitting and sagging and pieces of wall are "falling off all over the place."
The owner of USA Flea Market, NAIDIP 19-52 LLC, was ordered to immediately cease all business on the property until further notice. Three people from Tampa associated with the company in state records — Rajendra Patel, Jayesh Patel and Kirit Patel — could not immediately be reached for comment.
"Whether charges or other enforcement action follows depends on whether the owner complies with the county's requirements," said Pasco County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine.
Officials inspected the flea market in April after receiving dozens of complaints from vendors, including some about electrical problems that were "life threatening," County Administrator Dan Biles said. In March, the county also investigated an auto sales business there and found two buildings that had been illegally converted to accommodate auctions, officials said.
The county last inspected USA Flea Market in 2009, according to Assistant County Administrator Don Rosenthal. But records of those inspections have been lost, he said, so it is not clear whether the flea market had been cited before or whether the county followed up on any violations.
This is not the first time USA Flea Market has been embroiled in controversy. In 1993, a fire at the property caused $4.5 million in damage. Three people were convicted of arson.
The county said it plans to help the vendors find new, safer venues so they can continue to sell their merchandise and services. The indoor-and-outdoor vendor stalls at the back of the property, the actual flea market, are usually occupied Friday through Sunday.
On Wednesday afternoon, the business owners at the front who operate all week were packing up their equipment and wondering where they'll go next.
Tarr sat in a chair in a long row of garage bays occupied by about a dozen entrepreneurs, including appliance repair shops, window tinting services and tire dealers. He officially learned of his fate from a bright-orange flier plastered next to his door, stating that the structure poses an "immediate danger to life" and must be vacated immediately.
The Spring Hill resident worries he'll have to pay a lot more to rent another site.
"It's devastating," Tarr said. "It's how I feed my family, you know?"
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