SAN DIEGO – San Diego’s swap meets and flea markets have become an ever-growing presence across the county, becoming one of the go to spots for people looking to rummage for vintage or used treasures.
While many are new to the area – whether they have migrated south from Los Angeles or just popped up – there is one that has been a San Diego institution for decades: Kobey’s Swap Meet.
Kobey’s has been a go-to spot for people in the local flea market scene since it was founded by Anthony Pretto’s grandfather, Monte Kobey, in 1976.
Back then, Kobey’s was at a small drive-in movie theater that used to be located near the old Souplantation on West Point Loma Boulevard. That is until it was redeveloped about three years later, pushing the swap meet out.
In August 1980, Pretto, who is the current Vice President of Operations, said his grandfather was looking for new locations when he went to the then-newly constructed Sports Arena.
He struck a deal that allowed him to use the center’s parking lot every weekend and it has been there ever since.
“That’s when the swap meet really blossomed and grew,” Pretto told FOX5SanDiego.com. “(We’re) entering into our 44th year of operation.”
On any given weekend, Pretto said that there are as many as 200 to 700 vendors – some small businesses or vintage sellers, while others are there to sell items from their garage – catering to thousands of shoppers.
According to Pretto, Kobey’s sees as many as 750,000 San Diegans perusing the booths at the market every year. Sundays, which are the swap meet’s busiest day, can have upwards of 10,000 shoppers making the rounds in the Sports Arena parking lot.
“Kobey’s is a little city within itself,” Pretto said. “It is a great community and a great event for people of all ages, all walks of life to experience. But at the same time, it’s a great place to jumpstart your business.”
Pretto recounted how many vendors at Kobey’s have gone on to build successful brick-and-mortar businesses or used the market as a backdrop for notable sellers’ already established hustles, like some of the stars of the popular TV show, Storage Wars.
The swap meet prides itself on providing something for everyone, Pretto said. However, there is one thing that he said has kind of given Kobey’s a bit of a resurgence: thrifting – more specifically, shopping vintage clothing.
Second-hand shopping is a booming industry worldwide, with many environmentally conscious consumers turning to it as an affordable way to cut down on waste and pollution that comes with the manufacturing of new clothes by keeping clothing in the cycle of use longer.
“Those individuals that are eventually open minded to thrifted clothing, vintage clothing – that don’t mind wearing a second-hand t-shirt because there’s a story behind it,” Pretto said, “and it’s in this kind of living a second life.”
Many GenZers have become especially fond of thrifting, with one report from eBay estimating that about 80% of their second-hand marketplace is made up of buyers from this age group.
That trend is something that Pretto says is true for Kobey’s: while new merchandise from local start-ups and artisans are still the bulk of their vendors, vintage or second-hand clothing sellers have been a big focus for the business.
Kobey’s now hosts an event on the last Saturday of each month called “Kobey’s Vintage Alley” that is specifically dedicated to vintage or second hand clothing. This month’s event will be happening on Saturday, Apr. 29.
The swap meet has been hosting the event since 2019, after Pretto said he was approached by a couple of vintage sellers who wanted to give these vendors something “they can really call their own.”
More on this month’s Kobey’s Vintage Alley can be found here
The swap meet has also broken into other more niche markets like the high-end sneaker resale industry, with a sneaker-specific event that features sellers with authentic Jordans and Yeezys.
According to Pretto, this event also draws out as many as 10,000 shoppers looking to snag a pair of hard-to-come-by kicks. The next sneaker event will be held on May 6, Pretto said.
Despite the scale of the market, Pretto said that there’s still “nothing we won’t do.” Whether it’s personally sweeping the parking lot after the market or working with vendors, Pretto and his family are on the ground, along with their part-time staff of around 40 workers.
Because at the end of the day, Kobey’s remains a family affair. Pretto’s parents took over the business when his grandfather passed away in 1989. He joined later in 2007.
“I absolutely love it. Every day is a new day, especially with our business,” Pretto said. “You get immersed in lots of different departments. But at the same time, it’s still a family-owned business and our family is always out here.”
Kobey’s Swap Meet is open Friday through Sunday every weekend from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., generally rain or shine. Shoppers have an entrance fee of $1 on Fridays and $2 on Saturday or Sunday. Information on how to participate as a vendor can be found here.
“This was a great place for everybody,” Pretto said, “if you’re trying to make a buck, or if you’re just trying to spend a couple hours on the weekend and do a different activity than (going) to the beach or (going) to the mall.”