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COMMUNITY NEWS: CENTRAL

DOWNTOWN : Swap Meet Has Grand Opening

April 11, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

The Main Street Swap Meet opened last week, providing residents of the mostly industrial area north of Downtown with a place to buy groceries, clothing and electronics.

Decorated with an international-themed mural by local artist Richard Jimenez, the 120,000-square-foot building at 1100 N. Main St. has room for 140 vendors. Half of the vendor spaces are occupied.

The swap meet offers a produce section arranged in farmers market-style, and owner John Wong hopes to add a meat and seafood market, a beauty salon, a check-cashing business and a "wedding section," where future newlyweds can rent tuxedos and get outfitted for bridal gowns.

Wong--a banker, almond cookie manufacturer and industrial real estate broker--decided to develop the swap meet to serve the mostly Latino residents of the area.

"I thought it was a good business opportunity for me and for small vendors," Wong said. The vendors are a mix of ethnicities, including Latinos and Koreans.

But the road from concept to reality was a long one. Despite support from area city council members and the community, it took Wong two years to gain the required approvals from the city planning and building departments.

Wong said the delays cost him vendors. He said he had as many as 80 vendors interested in the swap meet, but some bowed out as time passed. "I would have had a lot more vendors if I had the approvals last year," he said. "It was very discouraging. There were some times when I felt just like giving up."

But with the swap meet finally open, Wong and the vendors expressed optimism about its future. Wong said 3,000 people attended the grand-opening fiesta.

The swap meet was virtually empty one recent weekday afternoon, but Steve Han, an athletic-shoe vendor whose South-Central business burned in last year's riots, attributed the lack of shoppers to the newness of the facility.

Han, who learned about the facility through Wong's ads in Korean newspapers, said he believes business will pick up once locals learn about the swap meet's low prices and 500 parking spaces.

"People are still just window shopping," Han said. "But later, when they go shopping, they'll think of here."

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