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How a North Hollywood Swap Meet Beat Gentrification and Won Over Its Landlord

12:27 PM PDT on April 6, 2022

For over 30 years, San Fernando Valley families would gather at the North Hollywood Swap Meet for good deals, delicious Mexican food, and live music on any day of the week. At the end of February 2022, however, the atmosphere quickly turned to worry and doubt as vendors were fighting to keep their booths alive. 

"El valiente vive hasta que cobarde quiere," vendors chanted as they faced potential displacement. "The oppressor will stay in power until the oppressed revolt." 

Vendors at the North Hollywood Swap Meet received notice that they would have to vacate the building on March 31st after rumors of redevelopment. After weeks of protests and negotiations, the swap meet landlord Moshe Hager agreed to let the vendors keep their spots under a new management company and the North Hollywood Swap Meet will remain open. 

Juana Medina, a merchant who inherited her father's sports and menswear businesses two years ago, was shocked when she first heard news of the potential closure on February 19.

"The management should give the vendors a heads up for common courtesy," says Medina.  "It feels like a grieving process, but I'm not there yet because I still have hope for it to be open for a little bit longer, at least a year more.”

Vendors feared they would be booted out only to make room for a large corporation.

“When I negotiated with the landlord, he said he wanted to rent out to a major company like a Fedex or a Walmart,”  Roberto Lopez, a restaurant owner at the swap meet and lead organizer said. “We pleaded to him not to and told him that we depend on the building for our livelihoods.”

Photo by David Rodriguez for L.A. TACO.
Photo by David Rodriguez for L.A. TACO.

Lopez and other organizers sought guidance from The People's Struggle: San Fernando Valley about how to move forward. The activist group empowered merchants to organize and mobilize to get the landlord’s attention.

“I don’t know how to feel… It's hard. Some days I am full of hope and some days it's like ‘there's nothing you can do about it,’” Say Medina. 

Vendors began their journey to keep the swap meet open on March 7, where over 100 community members and vendors hung signs and chanted at the intersection of Lankershim Boulevard and Valerio Street, directly across the swap meet building. 

Next, protestors and vendors organized outside of Los Angeles City Councilmember Pual Krekorian's office on March 21, hoping to get some support. Krekorian later gave a statement claiming that he couldn't do anything since the contention was between the landlord and vendors.

With no luck at Krekorian’s office, the vendors brought their signs to the landlord's home in Santa Monica. This time, it workedvendors had two meetings with the swap meet owner and negotiated a deal during the last week vendors were told to vacate their booths. 

During negotiations, the landlord agreed that the vendors could stay if they found a new management company to replace the old one, according to organizers. The vendors identified a new management company and in only a few days, submitted a proposal on March 25 explaining their capability of managing the swap meet. The management company’s owner is a long-time friend of Lopez. Vendors anxiously awaited the landlord's response and approval. 

There were mixed feelings among vendors throughout the last week of March as they were waiting to hear from the landlord. Some vendors were confident that the outcome will be on their side, and others were unsure.

“I don’t know how to feel… It's hard. Some days I am full of hope and some days it's like ‘there's nothing you can do about it,’” Say Medina. 

Vendors finally heard from the landlord around 3 PM on March 31stthe new management company was approved to manage the North Hollywood Swap Meet and the vendors could stay. 

“We're still surviving here, and maybe my kids will survive here too," Medina hopes.

To Lopez, unity and expressing their story to the landlord was needed to keep the swap meet open. 

“It took a lot of effort, we had to unite to get our voice’s heard,” Lopez said. “Thank God he agreed to keep it open...we’re proud of our journey.”

Despite this victory, the closure of indoor swap meets continues in Los Angeles and throughout California. The increase in the cost of living, the need for more housing, and higher property value all contribute to the disappearance of swap meets and informal economies. 

"Swap meets are part of the culture," says Iver Cano, a children's toy vendor who took ownership of his mom's store. "They don't build apartments that people can afford. They're pushing the low-income community out and bringing middle and upper-class people in."

Low-income Latino families work and shop at indoor swap meets, and put their best efforts in keeping them alive for the next generation.

“We're still surviving here, and maybe my kids will survive here too," Medina hopes.

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