This August, Kiwanis Marketplace turns nine years old, but locals have been shopping, donating and volunteering to raise funds for the Kiwanis Club of Carefree for decades.
One of those locals is Geno Orrico, who recalled the humble beginnings of what is now a multi-million dollar business.
“It actually started out in a two-car garage,” said Orrico, a longtime club member, past president and current volunteer.
The idea for the marketplace originated in the early 1980s, when the Kiwanis Club of Carefree started fundraising with garage sales. They were a hit — so much so that the club was able to award its first scholarship in 1986.
Realizing the potential of these sales, the club struck a deal with the Town of Carefree in 1999 that allowed Kiwanis to build a 3,000-square-foot, $100,000 building on town land with a 20 year lease. Part of the agreement with the town, however, was that there could only be six flea markets a year.
“People would line up at 7:30 in the morning for when we opened at 8 a.m., and we stayed open until 1 o’clock,” Orrico said.
Kiwanis Marketplace general manager Alex Perez echoed Orrico’s statement and said people were always eager to shop.
“They would bring their lawn chairs to wait for the opening and then run in and just buy whatever they could from the flea market,” Perez said.
Customers lined up at Kiwanis Marketplace
Before the Kiwanis Marketplace officially became the Marketplace, people would line up down the street to shop at one of six yearly flea markets.
Over the years, the amount of sales and volunteers vastly increased. Things really picked up around 2012, though, as it became clear the club would have to vacate the building when the lease expired in 2019. Not only that, but sales were doing so well that there wasn’t enough space.
According to Perez, the club started raising money to buy land and build a new location. He said about $1.2 million had been raised when the perfect building became available. With the money already raised, the club purchased the building and opened what is now the Kiwanis Marketplace within a few short weeks.
“When it first started, there were zero employees and all volunteers — about 150 volunteers. It was open four days a week for four hours a day and it made just under a million dollars,” Perez said.
“Then it grew and grew and now today there’s 14 employees and around 100 volunteers that come and help and last year we made over $2.25 million in sales.”
Orrico said he never would have imagined it would grow to be so successful, but he’s glad to be a part of it. He’s not the only one, either.
“There are volunteers that have been around since the beginning,” Orrico said. “It gives you a sense of giving back to the community, and I think that goes for all the volunteers — they feel a sense of self worth. … We also have some folks that come here every single day to see what treasures they can get.”
In celebration of the marketplace’s ninth anniversary and the people who have helped keep it open, there will be several special events throughout August.
The Kiwanis Marketplace will host an appreciation party for all its volunteers and, for shoppers, there will be a full week of sales Aug. 22-26. Perez said different areas of the store will be on sale each day, culminating in a big blowout sale Saturday, Aug. 26.
The marketplace also hosted the Carefree Cave Creek Chamber of Commerce monthly mixer to invite local business leaders to join in celebrating not only the anniversary, but also the good that has been accomplished.
Thanks to funds from the marketplace, the Kiwanis Club of Carefree was able to donate more than $1.2 million last year, sponsoring projects like Family Fun Days at the Cave Creek Museum, renovations at Desert Foothills YMCA and school programs at Cave Creek Unified School District.
If you would like to learn more or volunteer at the Marketplace, visit kiwanismarketplace.org or stop by 6536 E. Cave Creek Road.