A family tradition: Spence’s Bazaar to celebrate 85th anniversary

Blake Scott Jr. auctions items at Spence’s Bizarre in Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — The number is just too big to ignore, so the owners of Spence’s Bazaar decided to wrap a huge community celebration around the local landmark’s 85th anniversary next Friday.

Blake Scott Sr., among the fifth generation of Spence’s family owners, said the red-painted flea market and auction house has become “a way of life” for those who shop and often find hidden gems there.

“Spence’s Bazaar is special because it’s been family-owned and family-operated for so many years,” Mr. Scott said. “Of course, the Amish Market with their goods helps us out, also.

“Once you start coming, you just keep right on coming.”

Spence’s, located at 550 South New Street, will celebrate its 85th anniversary by giving away numerous door prizes, conducting a 50/50 raffle and hosting several local dignitaries, including Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen.

Spence’s Bazaar has been conducting business at the same location since May 3, 1933.

The Spence family pushed their anniversary celebration back a month due to conflicting dates with NASCAR’s spring races at Dover International Speedway and the Dover Days festival in early May.

The special day at Spence’s will begin with the opening of the flea market at 7 a.m., with dignitaries speaking at 10 a.m. and a large antiques and collectibles auction at 12:30 p.m.

“It’s huge,” said Cathy Skinner, the office manager at Spence’s. “For a place to be owned by one family for all 85 years, I don’t know how many other businesses can say that they’ve done that.

“The place is a landmark. People might move away but they make sure they come back here when they come to visit.”

Chaba Waite sorts through vinyl records at her Collectible Sounds store at Spence’s Bizarre in Dover. She has been at Spence’s since 1989. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Taking care of some last-minute preparations on Thursday, Mr. Scott and his son Blake Scott Jr., who works at the family business as an auctioneer, said they hope there are still many years left in the future for Spence’s Bazaar.

Blake Scott Jr. said business has been somewhat sketchy this spring due to all the wet weather Dover has been experiencing.

“It’s been on and off,” he said. “It can get really busy on a nice shiny day.”

‘The Sale’ is not for sale

Blake Scott Sr. said he would love to see the family-owned business reach 100.

That’s why he has been so confused lately when he hears rumors that the owners of Spence’s Bazaar are looking to sell the property.
Mr. Scott strongly denies that there is any kind of an effort taking place to sell the landmark business.

“We’re not sold and we’re not even for sale,” Mr. Scott said. “The rumor is going crazy. There have been rumors of (neighboring) Bayhealth being interested in our property and I guess some people are saying that Spencer’s (Gifts) at the (Dover) mall may be closing or something and they’re getting it confused with Spence’s Bazaar.

“People don’t think we’re telling them the truth. They think it’s been sold and we keep telling them that it hasn’t – especially our vendors. They think it’s gone and it’s not. We still hear the rumors and it’s not sold and it’s not for sale.”

Mr. Scott said people can still expect to come to Spence’s Bazaar for the auction and all the other staples the place is known to offer, from Amish goods to produce, clothing, and collectibles on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

That is a relief to Vixie Vetts, of Milton.

“I’d hate to see this place close,” said Ms. Vetts, who has been selling goods at Spence’s for nearly 40 years. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. I like to come out and just see the people.

“Spence’s Bazaar is a way of life for most people here.”

Storied history in downtown Dover

That Spence’s Bazaar “way of life” began as a livestock and horse auction after Harry and Emma Spence bought an old tomato cannery at Fleming’s Landing in New Castle in 1933 and moved it to its current location on New Street.

So far, the business has survived an arson fire in May 2000, the boom of internet shopping and an amazing five generations of family owners.

Over the years it has grown into its current incarnation where shoppers can find an auction, a flea market offering things such as furniture, electronic items and collectibles, as well as fresh produce and homemade Amish food.

Spence’s Bazaar continues to provide a small-town atmosphere right near the heart of the state capital. Most locals know it simply as “The Sale.”

Clyde Hastings, of Dover, was outside taking in the sights and sounds of the auction earlier this spring. Like many, he can’t imagine life without Spence’s.

“It wouldn’t be good if this place closed,” Mr. Hastings said. “It’s nice to have this. They auction things off and you just can’t find that sort of thing around much anymore.

“This place has good people, food, ice cream, produce and just about anything you could want — and it’s cheap, too.”

Despite Mr. Scott’s efforts to dispel those nasty rumors of a possible sale of “The Sale,” he said they continue to persist.

“Everybody keeps saying they saw it in the paper and I keep saying, ‘Well, cut it out and show us. Show me where it’s been sold,’” he said.

For now, he and his family are looking toward the future and another successful year.

“We’re going to have a celebration for our 85th anniversary,” Mr. Scott said. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll make it to 100 (years) and then we can have a really big party.”

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