Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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February 17, 2014

Local trade days now a thing of the past

JACKSONVILLE — Lookout Mountain Trade Days, an open-air market that began operating in 1992 on the same hilltop where Love’s Lookout sits, has shut down.

According to property owner Denny Mortis of Jacksonville, the final trade days were held at the beginning of February.

Between fewer paying vendors over the years, and the more recent economic downturn, the once-popular market – which in its heyday attracted more than a hundred vendors each month – was drawing smaller crowds.

“When we first opened, it grew and grew. We probably had 120 vendors set up (during more popular times), and we had it backed all the way to the woods. It was very successful,” said Mortis, who owns the 250-acre hillside tract upon which the trade day site sits. “But then we had moved to Austin for a while and I couldn’t run it anymore. One of the vendors wanted to run it, and he did pretty good for a while,” he said. “But I just became uncomfortable with the way it was looking, it’s in a very beautiful spot.”

Trade days are not an uncommon event in East Texas, because after all, the mother of all open-air markets in the U.S. continues to operate after it first began in the 1850s.

Canton’s First Monday Trade Days might no longer operates on the first Monday of the month on the courthouse square, but the four-day event (held the weekend before first Monday) is wildly popular.

The Nacogdoches Trade Days, established in 1989, is an outdoor market open Friday through Saturday during the third weekend of each month.

A trade days also operated north of Tyler for a number of years, but closed several years ago.

The former Lookout Mountain Trade Days site – which has “a great panoramic view,” Mortis pointed out – will not sit unused for long, however.

“We’ve been looking at different things for three years,” Mortis said, adding that different companies have approached him to build a restaurant, set up a zipline course, even build homes there.

“Over the years we’ve had people come to us about developing it, putting homes all over the mountain, but I couldn’t let it happen. I decided I didn’t want 200 rooftops on my mountain – I’m very protective of that old hill out there,” he said.

Over the past several years, Mortis has been consulting with the Small Business Development Center in Tyler, “Looking to see what fits best for the mountain that (everyone) would love,” he said.

His ultimate goal is to create a site that fosters a family atmosphere in a beautiful, fun setting.

As commerce continues to grow north along U.S. Highway 69 – namely, a $4 million, 40,000-square-foot project that will house Jacksonville's Bacon Auto Country dealership – “the time is perfect” to move forward with a new project, Mortis said.

“With the dealership going in, it’s going to be great,” he said.

At the top Mortis’s wish-list is an event center that capitalizes on the 35-mile view from atop the hillside, a project that will tie into the existing Little Red Barn center that he owns between Love’s Lookout and the trade days site.

“Realistically, you’re looking at least $300,000 to half a million dollars (to construct) to get some of the things I want to get in there, to do it right,” he said, adding that his goal is to build “what looks appealing and what’s conducive to the mountain and being respectful of the mountain.

“That’s what (the land) means to me. At my age, it’s more important that’s really unique, Texas-flavored, and ties in with the mountain,” he said.

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