Can you name Florida’s second largest tourist attraction, after Disney World? According to 83-year-old owner Preston Henn, it’s the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop.
Opened in 1966, Henn’s crazy venture began with just one drive-in movie screen and a few outdoor vendors. An outdoor food court was added in 1979. The building housing the food court was enclosed – and air conditioned – in 1988. Now between 1,000 and 2,000 vendors set up shop on the 88-acre property on any given day.
You’ll find everything you need, and don’t need, at the Swap Shop. Sunglasses, t-shirts, souvenirs, incense, car radios, cell phone cases – if you can import it legally, you’ll likely find it inside at the Swap Shop. The premises also sports a food court, a few carnival rides, some interactive games, an outdoor flea market and a farmer’s market featuring fresh produce.
There’s a Swap Shop in Lake Worth, and one in Tampa too. Both are owned by Henn, a former race-car driver and team owner. Henn last year agreed to pay a $5.5 million settlement to Coach for trademark infringement by vendors selling knock-off goods at the Swap Shop. A real south Florida character, Henn’s had his run-ins with vendors and sheriffs alike. He’s a legend in these parts!
Watch out: The Swap Shop’s ATM will hit you for at least $3. Preston didn’t get to be a multi-millionaire by giving people breaks.
The Swap Shop’s three main sections include:
Flea Market. Indoor stalls, which are covered, are operated by full-time business people. Outdoor spots, which are not covered, are rented on a daily basis to whomever shows up. Some of the 10-by-10 spaces on the outside also are rented on a longer term basis, but most are first-come, first serve for around $50/day.
Not too long ago, the Swap Shop hosted a carnival that included live elephants. It was a sight to see elephants commanded to duck their heads as they walked outside the covered area of the Swap Shop. All that remains of the carnival now are a few basic rides and a couple of carny games.
The farmer’s market features fresh produce that’s harvested locally. Rows and rows of bins filled with more fruits than you can name, vegetables you never before seen, and potatoes of every size and shape. Tropical foliage for the yard, as well as fresh-cut flowers, also are available.
Automobile Museum. Preston’ s Porche 935 won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1983. His Porsche 962 also won 12 Hours of Sebring in 1985. Overall, his collection is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The collection features more than a dozen prime Ferrari’s, including a Ferrari 275 GTB Berlinetta Special, worth about $70 million. One of 12 versions of the race car produce in 1964, this vehicle was the most prolific winner of the line. It finished third overall, and first in its class, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965.
The 26-car collection includes five Porches, two Mercedes-Benz’s, a Bugatti Veyron, a Maserati. The only American made cars in the collection” Ford GT and Corvette Z1. The vehicles are on display inside the Swap Shop.
Drive In Movies. At night, Preston turns the Swap Shop into one of the nation’s last drive-in movie theaters. The Thunderbird Drive In is one of two drive-in theaters left in south Florida, and Preston owns the other one in Lake Worth. The Thunderbird has 14 movie screens, a snack bar and a restroom.
In 1958, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters in the country. Less than 400 drive-in theaters remain nationwide. There are only seven in Florida. Shows at the Thunderbird begin between 7:30 pm and 10 pm. Tickets are reasonable, $7 for adults and $2 kids for under 12. The snack bar features foot-long hot dogs and cotton candy.
The Swap Shop is 5 miles (10 minutes) from Rodeway Inn and Suites Fort Lauderdale. Open seven days a week, 365 days a year. Hours: Monday thru Wednesday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Directions to the Swap Shop from Rodeway Inn & Suites.