Longtime vendors protest against the San Fernando Swap Meet management

Samantha Bravo, Assistant Campus Editor

Around 100 people gathered at the San Fernando Swap Meet on Tuesday to protest against the management’s lack of communication with vendors during the coronavirus pandemic.

The swap meet reopened on July 14, after being closed for over three months due to stay at home orders. Some vendors argued the management did not notify them of the reopening and said the website gave them issues reserving their original spot.

The San Fernando Swap Meet is the largest outdoor swap meet in the San Fernando Valley. Spanning 16 acres, the swap meet provides over 800 vendor spaces to sell to a weekly average of 26,000 shoppers, according to the website. Merchandise includes produce, clothing, tools, pet supplies, fabrics, music, jewelry and more.

Los Angeles County approved the reopening of flea markets, swap meets and drive-in movie theatres on May 26, in alignment with state regulations. The San Fernando Swap Meet management said they had to close and implement new restrictions due to COVID-19.

“When I spoke to management, they said that they were going to let everybody know that they were going to start renting out spaces and they were able to go online and book a space,” said Angelica Villagrana, a vendor. “They decided to put the link for people to reserve, and then they removed it. (A manager) said they were having problems with the link itself.”

Villagrana said the managers told her family they are able to reserve a space online on the day of the reopening. Villagrana said the link was not functioning properly and although she knew spaces were available, the site said her space was already booked.

When Villagrana asked why the link was not on the website, the managers said they were working with IT to resolve the technical issues.

Vendors felt the managers favored certain vendors and didn’t give the other vendors the opportunity to reserve the spaces they have been selling at for over 20 years.

Although Villagrana is able to reserve a space for her and her family, she said other elderly vendors, who aren’t tech-savvy, prefer paying in person and in cash for their space.

“You have to understand that there’s elders that don’t have access to the internet or just don’t know how to navigate it. Even for us, it was difficult to figure it out now — imagine for them,” Villagrana said.

Villagrana said the vendors were frustrated that the management didn’t inform the vendors of the new reservation system.

“The vendors want their own spots that they had already paid for — the spot they’ve had for over 20 years,” Villagrana said.

Villagrana said the vendors want management to be flexible with allowing vendors to use the remainder of what they paid for in the month of March to be able to sell in July.

“We want to use that credit for those last two weeks of March and they’re saying, ‘You can reserve a spot, you can buy a spot.’ We have credit. Apply that credit and give us our spaces back,” Villagrana said. “I want my space, but you’re not going to give it to me because somebody already reserved it until the end of August.”

“My dad has been here for over 30 years,” Villagrana said. “My parents met at a swap meet — not this one specifically — but they met at a swap meet and I joke around and I tell people I was born in the back of the truck. My mom was having contractions here, so that’s how long we’ve been here.”

Villagrana’s mother, Martha Villagrana pays $2,000 a month for three spaces selling kitchen items and pays an additional $500 a month for two 20-feet storage containers on the property.

“We pay a lot more money for rent here than for our own home. That’s ridiculous,” Villagrana said.

Villagrana said she prefers the swap meet to cease operation and organize a better system.

“At least we’re all being treated the same,” Villagrana said. “They said in a week that they’re going to come back to us and give us a word. I feel like some people have different agendas, but people weren’t really organized or not on the same page.”

The San Fernando Swap Meet’s management published a statement Wednesday morning and addressed the vendors’ concerns.

“We have met with our community of vendors and heard their concerns about our communications during the Swap Meet closure and the issues they experienced with our new operating procedures when we reopened including our new online booking system,” the statement said. “We are committed to ensuring fairness and better communication with our vendors. Once we can safely reopen all our spaces in the Swap Meet, long term vendors will have an opportunity to regain access to their prior space(s). Until then, we will strive to improve our processes and make them as equitable as possible, but please know that we have fewer spaces available to vendors at this time due to COVID restrictions. Please check back here in a few days for changes we are making to our operating procedures.”

The management refused to give their names or further information pertaining to the issue but said that due to COVID-19 regulations, they are restricted to 300 vendors instead of 800.

The managers published an earlier statement on April 4, which said although the swap meet prefers to take reservations online, vendors can still purchase their space in person.

Protesters had the option to stay and protest at the San Fernando Swap Meet or walk to Pacoima City Hall. Protesters decided to remain at the swap meet to prevent senior vendors from walking in the sun. The crowd dispersed around noon.

The San Fernando Swap Meet is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday through Sunday. The cost of entrance varies from $1 to $2.

According to the website, all space reservations need to be done online and vendors must check-in between 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.; cars are not allowed to drive on the grounds of the swap meet after 7:00 a.m.