'Everything must go' as longtime swap meet prepares to close

By Susan Abram, Staff Writer

CANOGA PARK - The merchants of the Valley call out sales in fevered pitches, for one last push to lure shoppers into booths that have stood for decades.

"Two for $5!" one T-shirt vendor shouts.

"Everything must go, go, go!" another says.

Fur-lined suede boots marked down from $36 to $18. Rhinestone bangles and crystal beaded bracelets once $20, brought down to $5. Potted, freckle-faced, Hypoestes plants for $2.

All around the Valley Indoor Swap Meet, prices were slashed and gashed Sunday like the spirits of the nearly 400 vendors who have called the 6.5 acres where they have set up shop their home, their community, their family, since 1983.

"For the first time in my life, I don't know where I'm going to be tomorrow," said a somber Jack Schneider, who has sold ladies' garments out of three booths for almost as long as the swap meet was open.

"I'm 83 years old," he said. "It's a very sad day."

After years as a San Fernando Valley landmark, the swap meet on Variel Street closed Sunday night for good. It had been the longest running swap meet of its kind in the city of Los Angeles. But the property's owner, Ronald Simms, opted not to renew a 20-year lease on the site and instead is selling the land to a developer, where 438 condominium units are slated to be built.

And so the merchants opened their booths one last time, to sell framed posters and designer jeans, children's toys and leather jackets, men's suits and ladies wallets. And in between, they answered questions from longtime shoppers, customers who had become friends, about where they might be moving to.

"This is bittersweet," said Adele Sklamberg, owner of Fantastik Fakes, where rings and bracelets and shiny charms sold for $4 to $5 each.

"In a way, it's a happy day for me because I'm moving on to the Alley in the Valley (on Reseda Boulevard), but it's sad, too, because this is a family."

Co-worker Phyllis Basson was such a fan of Fantastik Fakes that Sklamberg asked her to work for her three years ago.

"It's a huge loss for many people who have shopped here for so long," she said.

Shopper Barbara Kalman, who bought a pair of white, patent-leather platform heels for $10, said she would miss the convenience, the bargains and the selections that can't be found inside the big retail malls.

"There's just no other place like this in the Valley," she said.

Down the crowd-filled aisles, where the smell of kabobs and free pizza lingered, shoppers repeated the same sentiment again and again.

"Since I was born," one customer said when asked how long she had been coming to the swap meet. "I'm going to cry."

Edie Fogel of Canoga Park shopped with her children and grandchildren at the meet every other week.

"I'm very upset," she said. "We've bought furniture here, clothes, jewelry, shoes. Everybody knows everybody."

Good as Gold owner Terry Tulak, who opened her jewelry shop in 1983, said she is considering continuing on in a space in Thousand Oaks. But plans have yet to be finalized.

"I feel like swap meets are going the way of the drive-in theaters," she said. "I didn't think we were treated very fairly. Many of us signed a lease until 2011, and we thought we would be helped in finding another space. We weren't."

Artist Andre Hampton, who has airbrushed skulls and slogans on sneakers for six years and can replicate family photographs, hip-hop singers and celebrities onto canvas and T-shirts, said he hasn't decided where he will move. A private space is an option but not ideal, he said.

"We sell better to the walk-up customers," he said.

Chiropractor David Wies didn't bother hanging a human spine from his booth as he has done for years. He just didn't see the point on the last day.

"People have told me they would come to my office, but some people like the convenience of me being here," he said as he worked the kinks out of Reseda resident Georgia Thompson's neck.

Stylist Rosie Bowman has been trimming, shaping and cutting hair inside her booth for 15 years.

"I'm a full-service salon," she said. "This (booth) was my first very own place."

"It's sad to see this all leave," Tarzana resident Carmen Gonzalez said. "This part of the Valley needs this swap meet. Now, all of us will be scattered around to try to find other places."

Some merchants said they would continue on at the Alley in the Valley. Others were planning to set up in a space on Sherman Way and Vineland Boulevard in North Hollywood, while some said they would try to open booths at the Saugus Speedway Swap Meet.

Merchant Jamie Garrison, who began selling designer men's shirts just a year ago, said taking the swap meet away from customers was "heartless."

"People are so hurt about all this," she said. "This is taking away jobs at a time when people need jobs. It's taking away livelihoods.

"They're going to build more apartments here, when the economy is in a downturn," she said. "A landmark like this, you don't just take it away out of greed."

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