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Swap Meet Vendors Threaten Rent-Hike Boycott : Protest: Marketplace renters say increased charges for fairgrounds space would double or triple costs.


COSTA MESA — Vendors at the Orange County Marketplace, upset about last week's notice that their rents will double and in some cases triple, are planning a boycott this weekend if the swap meet's operator, Tel-Phil Enterprises, does not back down.

"We have people willing to chain themselves to their trucks if necessary," said Diane Wallace, a longtime swap meet vendor. She was notified Thursday that monthly rent for her 30-foot-by-30-foot space at the fairgrounds will nearly double--from $800 to $1,500. When she started selling beauty supplies at the swap meet 15 years ago, her rent was $5, she said.

The increase combined with the recession threatens to put Wallace, a single mother with six children, out of business. "I can't maintain it," she said. "My business is already down 75%." The new rental rates do not go into effect until Nov. 1, but November rent is due on Friday.

Also, the cost of admission to the swap meet will double, rising from 50 cents to $1.

At the swap meet Sunday, vendors raised more than $3,000 to retain a lawyer to represent them at the Orange County Fair Board's monthly meeting Thursday. If nothing happens then to affect the rate increases, vendors say, they plan to barricade entrances and boycott the meet.

Vendor Doug Davenport, who sells picture frames and chamois cloths at the meet, is already printing T-shirts and buttons with "rent increase" inside a red circle with a slash through it.

Tel-Phil attorney and spokesman Tom Malcolm confirmed Monday that rents are going up. The increases, he said, are the result of a renegotiated lease agreement with the Fair Board, which last year put operation of the swap meet up for bid. Tel-Phil, which has run the swap meet since it began 23 years ago, beat seven competitors to win the contract.

As a state agency, the Fair Board was required to seek bids for the contract, which had not been renegotiated in 20 years, and to try to increase revenues, said Norb Bartosik, the board's general manager. Tel-Phil, which had 1991 revenue of $14.4 million, was one of the lowest bidders but won the contract based in part on its experience in swap-meet operation.

Last year, the swap meet earned about $4 million for the Fair Board. Bartosik said the board would like that to increase to between $5 million and $7 million under the new contract, which is not yet final.

Under terms of the new agreement, Tel-Phil would pay the Fair Board 51% of its revenue from food and beverages, including beer and wine, and 38% of its revenue from space rentals. Under the old lease, Tel-Phil paid 15% of its concession revenue, 27% of beer and wine sales and 33% of its income from space rentals.

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