Luis Villa-Lopez said that he catches over 20 patrons per day that come into the South Bay Swap Meet — without paying.
“On Wednesday it’s only $1 to come in,” he said. “They sneak in at that gate because we leave it open at 6 a.m. and close it at 10 a.m. and they have all of the time to sneak in.”
He was pointing at a gate closer to the I-5 exit.
Villa-Lopez is the head of security here (until 2 p.m.) at the South San Diego venue on Coronado Avenue two blocks west of I-5. He said that he manages traffic when the drive in moviegoers flock at night time — and has to enforce the “walk-in buyers cannot be admitted” rule to most of the patrons.
“We don’t want customers from the swap meet [or movies], parking over there in the neighborhood and at the new apartments,” he said.
As I was interviewing with him, his walkie talkie blew up with inquiries. Villa-Lopez said that he hears it all, from issues with their bathrooms to sellers not having their yellow sales permit. The word estacionamiento (parking) was then blaring from his walkie talkie speaker.
On March 7, one of Villa-Lopez’s security guards, Roberto, was posted up on the corner of Green Bay Street and Oreo Lane, across Coronado Avenue. There were signs mounted on two folding barricades by Roberto. “No Swap Meet Parking” read one and the other read “Operating restrictions mandate that all swap meet buyers must either park on premises or arrive by bus. Walk-in buyers cannot be admitted” and then the Spanish translated text underneath.
“Is it the whole area that we cannot park in?” asked a lady in a red Honda CRX.
“You can go inside and park,” Roberto said.
“I went there like three times and there’s nothing open,” she said. “I can’t find anything for 20 minutes and I went to all three lots.”
“Then go three blocks up there,” Roberto said as he pointed southbound on Green Bay Street.
“Not everyone is as nice,” he said. “Like right here before you came, I told a man in a Honda Accord that he cannot park here. He then said to me “No, no, no, you can’t say nothing. I can park here. Whatever.””
The man then proceeded to walk up Green Bay Street where it Ts off into Coronado Avenue.
“Many times they park here and I call the other security guards to not let them get into the swap meet,” Roberto said.
“The San Diego Police Department authorizes us to let the customers know that they are going to get tickets or tow their vehicle,” Villa-Lopez said, “and if they fight back and if they do hit us, we have the right to respond back and they will be arrested.”
Villa-Lopez said that they began posting up across the street in late 2017, because the residents were fed up that they and their visitors didn’t have street parking during the morning business hours of the swap meet. “We do have the right to enforce parking across the street,” he said.
“They can’t really police that area,” Johnny said, “the law they are trying to implement seems kinda odd because that’s the city’s property and not theirs. And honestly, some visitors from Mexico don’t follow the parking laws even if they are posted in Spanish.”
Johnny is a sneaker collector. He’s been picking at this swap meet since the 1990s when he said “parking was more disastrous,” and the swap meet didn’t utilize the dirt lot in between the venue and Mendoza Elementary School to the west — as they do now.
“People just don’t want to park in the dirt and dirty their car,” Villa-Lopez said.
Johnny doesn’t wanna dirty his Ed Hardy-designed Vans sneakers that he scored here for $8, as well. “And regarding that “walk-in buyers cannot be admitted” on the sign,” he scoffed, “that’s vague, people walk in from the dirt lot or from the bus or from the schools. I smell BS and it’s not on the bottom of my shoes either!”
Johnny remembers scoring an original pair of red and black Air Jordans here for $5. ” ….. it was in the mid 1990s, when they raised the price to $2 per person to park inside, then towards Y2K, they lowered it back to $1.”
He said that about 80 percent of the traffic is from across the border, which gives him a better chance to score on the premium vintage sneakers. “I mean they buy sneakers too, don’t get me wrong,” he said, “but buy newer stuff to resell at a tianguis (outside market) or segunda (second hand store).”
“In 2010 they raised it to $2 again, then after 10 a.m. dropped it to $1,” Johnny said.
On March 14, at about 1 p.m. it was only $1 per person to enter and they said that on weekends, the entrance drops to $.50.
“The price increases did discouraged some people from coming before,” Johnny said, “but the police and security here have always had problems.”
On February 28, Villa-Lopez said “I was directing the cars to come in where the cars start to enter on Coronado Avenue. Then I see one guy in a Ford Expedition is parked on the side half way blocking the traffic. I tell him “you can’t be parked here” and he’s like 'ohh I’m just going to wait for my wife' and I was like 'your wife’s been gone for like an hour — you can pay the $1 and park inside.'"
Villa-Lopez said the driver then started yelling obscenities “and then he tried to run me over and barely missed me by an inch.”
He reported the incident to the police and “I told everybody that if he tries to come in, don’t let him in.”
Villa-Lopez added that on March 7th, he kicked out three people, and on March 14, before our interview, he kicked out two people.
Johnny said that he will still park across the street.