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A Place Where You Can Swap Till You Drop : Commerce: At recession-defying Ventura College meet, buyers and sellers wheel and deal. The event is 6 years old this weekend.


Browsing the Ventura College Swap Meet with two small children in tow, Carmen Gonzalez of Oxnard snapped up eight one-piece infant outfits when she learned their street-bargain price of 25 cents each.

"It's good," a smiling Gonzalez said as she walked away.

On the other side of the fold-out table, Doug Warren was delighted to collect $2.

"I go to garage sales and after a while my house gets full," Warren said. "My wife says get rid of it."

And thus another deal is clinched at the recession-defying swap meet, which attracts more than 200 vendors and hundreds of shoppers to the parking lot of Ventura College.

Celebrating its sixth anniversary this weekend, the Ventura College Swap Meet has been a big success and helped the Ventura College Foundation bring in $100,000 last year for scholarships. The foundation collects the money by renting space to semiprofessional vendors and people anxious to clear out their garages.

About three times a year, Warren rents a space in the college parking lot, packs his truck with clothes, books, paintings, videocassettes and knickknacks and tapes up the For Sale sign.

Warren said business was better in earlier years, but it is still worth the $18 space rental on Saturdays and $15 on Sundays. Besides, there wasn't anything else to do this weekend, he said.

"It was either do this or go to my mother-in-law's house in Riverside," he joked, one hand stuck in an official orange swap meet money apron tied around his waist.

Since there is no admission cost to shoppers, not everyone shows up to buy.

Holding up a dirty weed whacker, Al Venegas of Ventura said he came for the fun of peeking at what other people have brought out from the corners of their garages.

"Simple as that," he said. "It's fun. And once in a while you're lucky, and you find something you need."

Other shoppers came to hunt for specific items and walked away with everything but the kitchen sink.

"When we go out, we always spend more money than we were supposed to," said Elena Tomasetti of Santa Paula, whose husband and three children were wheeling out a used tire with their new yard fertilizer spreader.

Jackie and Lanie Springer came from Oak View looking for a plate they need to replace in a set. Instead, they found a heavy cast-iron cooking pot to add to Lanie's collection.

Normally, the husband and wife wheel and deal for the best price, but not this time.

"When he said $10, I said I'll take it," Lanie Springer whispered after the sale was completed. "I've seen these down at the flea market for 25 or 50 dollars."

Bill Hutton of Calabasas also added to his collection of miniature cars, picking up two gold-plated metal renditions of sports cars. He said he displays the cars in a room at home.

"My wife kills me for buying more," Hutton said with a grin. "I already have 200."

Even sellers get caught up in the buying frenzy, swapping or buying items from neighboring vendors.

"How much for the bird cage?" one prospective customer asked vendor Jill Valjien of Santa Barbara. A sheepish Valjien explained that she had just bought the cage from someone else.

"I just kind of sat it there," Valjien told the disappointed woman.

But buying and reselling used merchandise is the name of the game for Francisco Pegueros of Santa Paula, who shops auctions and yard sales for cheap power tools that he can mark up and bring to the swap meet.

Noting the irony, he said, "It's usually bought by vendors who are going to resell it again."

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