Theresa Kim, a 26-year old divorcee with two small children to support, used her life savings to start a novelty shop at the Peddler's Market, a collection of tiny stalls that resemble a cluttered attic.
Last Sunday, she learned that her days at the market, on Rte. 1 south of Alexandria, are numbered.
Kim and her 80 fellow merchants listened in stunned silence as a representative of the building's owners told them economic hard times will force the 3-year-old market to shut down.
Kim, who says she probably will have to declare bandruptcy, has 25 days to clear out.
"I've thought about dying. I ain't got nothing," Kim said through tears while leaning against a rickety shelf filled with trinkets at her Asia Market yesterday. "I don't have a savings account. Everything I could sweat, dig up or borrow went into this store I'm going to lose everything."
The Peddler's Market, located at 7702 Richmond Hwy., next door to the larger, better known Thieves' Market, began as Drummer's Village with eight independent merchants. By the end of 1979, Kim and the others had leased store slots ranging in size from 80 to 180 square feet.
The market, however, "was never profitable, it was always losing money," according to the Market's general manager, Gloria Caporaletti. She refused to say how large a debt the market faced, but said the owner of the building, a wealthy, New York-based businessman named Joseph Wall, made a verbal agreement to keep it open as recently as December.
Wall died unexpectedly in December, and his verbal agreement now "isn't worth the price of a piece if paper," Caporaletti said.
Berens Assets Management Company of Washington, the firm handling the market for the Wall family told the merchants rents would have to be quadrupled to keep the market open.
"The name of the game was cash flow," Caporaletti said. "Merchants were paying about $2 per square foot of space, and we were told that the rates would be raised as high as $8 per square foot. It just wasn't acceptable."
The closing will be little more than an annoying inconvenience for some of the merchants, but others said bankruptcy would be their only solution.
"I'm going to be back at point zero," said Holly Satterfield, as she listened to an accountant tell her that the $20,000 she had invested in restaurant equipment last November possed a resale value of no more than $3,500.
"I think this is despicable," Satterfield said, as she brooded at her Wurst Shop restaurant. "I don't know what I'll do. This was fun place, kind of sleazy, but with a real flavor of the local color. The merchants were like one happy family here," she said.
Bill and Denise Johnson of Springfield started the Book and Comic shop at the Market three years ago and now claim Virginia's largest selection of vintage comic books that date as far back as 1943.
"We've got at least 100,000 comic books here," Bill said. "My wife quit her job with the Commerce Department recently to work full-time here. This is a real shock. Now we're just trying to sell the whole collection."
The merchants have been told the Market will close to the public on Feb. 3, and that they will have 12 more days to clear the building of merchadise.
Rushing to meet that deadline, Gabriel Dahan, owner of the Flying Carpet shop, said he had reduced his Syrian backgammon boards to a price that gives him only a $2 profit. "I'm probably going to wind up on a street corner in Georgetown trying to unload all this," he said.
Also forced out will be John Ruplemas, a 17-year-old Groveton High School student who said he grossed $1,200 a month selling from his collection of 1.5 million bubble gum baseball cards.
"I'm not leaving and that's that," said John Ransdell, a federal employe who sells pottery and other items at his stall. "If they move a People's Drug Store in here, they're just going to have to put up with my antiques and Mae West pictures."
"The roof always leaked with the slightest drizzles," said Mary Ann Baron, owner of Second Parlor, as she discussed her imminent departure. "But it was an opportunity to know people and try something different. There have been lost of depression and tears over this."