NEW EGYPT – The buildings haven’t housed soldiers in decades. Rather, they’ve been re-purposed to host a variety of artisans and entrepreneurs looking to sell their wares in the village environment.
The New Egypt Flea Market sits at the border of Ocean and Monmouth counties, at Monmouth Road (Route 537) and Evergreen Road. What used to be just a field purchased back in 1937 from a newspaper ad became the New Egypt Auction and Farmer’s Market in 1959 when Boyer’s Sales Stables closed. The market was started by Esler and Sandy Heller.
The buildings came later.
Some of the buildings are old beach cottages, some from camps long gone. One large yellow building – it should be red, John Kearney said – was the oldest one-room schoolhouse in Bordentown. A retired UPS driver, he has a shop in the village, Everything Under the Sun and Moon (Shop 42). He’s run that for six years. The office, where market manager Keith Warner, the Hellers’ son-in-law, works, is an old Dairy Queen building.
His neighbor Ann Kestner set up in the village in February. Her shop, which she runs with her parents, Handmade in NJ (Shop 43), is an old officer’s quarters.
“We can configure the buildings any way,” Kestner said, noting that she opened her building into one large workshop. “I call it a barn, because I don’t know exactly what to call it. But there is nothing boring about these buildings. None of them feel exactly the same.”
The structure is the same but the colors are different. Her building, a soft rose color, neighbors Kearney’s, which is a sky blue. Next to his building is a barn red former officer’s quarters.
The Fort Dix buildings – officers’ quarters and the larger barracks—are all wooden buildings. The officers’ quarters are smaller than the barracks buildings. According to Warner and the Hellers, there are 43 buildings total. Sixteen of those were Fort Dix barracks and six were officers’ quarters.
“They were cheap to buy but expensive to move,” Warner said. The family wondered aloud if they bought each building for about a dollar. They couldn’t guess how much was spent to haul the buildings from Fort Dix to New Egypt. His brother-in-law, Esler’s and Sandy’s son Aaron, said the buildings were moved before regulations were tightened on moving such structures.
The buildings were brought in the late 1960s to early 1970s, though Aaron Heller believes it was around 1974. The buildings were likely 40-some years old when they were acquired by the Hellers. They knew Elvis Presley, who was stationed at Fort Dix. He served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960.
But those at the market turned the officers’ quarters and barracks into individual, charming heated shops, a unique vision of Esler Heller, whose idea was to create a flea market of individual buildings as opposed to others who were housing such markets in one large warehouse. Each shop had its own flair, its own shtick. The buildings were laid out so dirt lanes and boulevards – absolutely no blacktop – would be accessible to customers. Rather than lugging their prized finds around, customers could drive their car or truck to the shop and load it without hassle.
Esler Heller’s vision paid off: in July 1989, a fire claimed just one building, not the entire market. Esler Heller always feared fire.
“It was his forethought that led to us not losing everything,” Aaron Heller said.
Today the market is home to nearly 40 vendors. The Hellers and Warner are attracting more artisanal vendors, showcasing craftsman and artists and those who re-purpose furniture. There are still auctions, every Tuesday, and a tailgate auction once a month on a Sunday.
“We are one big family here,” Kearney said.
The market is open Wednesday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The auction is 5 p.m. every Tuesday. For more information, visit newegyptfleamarket.com.