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Swap meet business expands in wake of pandemic that shutters others

Updated November 2, 2020 - 8:07 am

While the pandemic has forced hundreds of Las Vegas businesses to shutter their doors (and many to close forever), some others have thrived.

For example, business is up 10 percent at the Fantastik Indoor Swap Meet, which opened in late May after a 10-week closure.

Doug Kays, co-founder of the 32-year-old business at Decatur and Oakey boulevards, says attendance is up to about 7,400 shoppers each three-day weekend.

The formula for success: thousands of home-bound consumers receiving stimulus money, people looking for a chance to get out of the house, good shopping values and businesses trying to survive and maybe thrive.

“Pre-pandemic, we had 32 years of pretty much the same shopper,” Kays said. “Post-pandemic, we had two different things happen that caused our attention to go up. No. 1, they (shoppers) were getting more stimulus money. Initially, you had that $600 extra bonus, and that spurred a lot of shopping. That tied into the second reason that we had an increase in attendance, and that was people were bored and they couldn’t go to other venues.”

The boom has allowed Fantastik to add about 65 new businesses since it reopened its 100,000 square feet of selling space.

“It’s a different environment, but the bottom line is people want something to do,” Kays said. “They want somewhere that is interesting, somewhere that is value-oriented, somewhere that has unique products … so they have been coming to see us.”

The weekly stimulus money long ago stopped, but Kays says sales remain strong.

“I see (vendors’) product coming in on days they refurbish their stock, which is Thursdays,” Kays said. “I see the bags going out the doors with the customers. That’s definitely picked up since we reopened from the pandemic.”

Business is so good that Kays is opening extra booth space that has been unused since the Great Recession.

He has a fairly unique view in that his facility is a venue for sellers and buyers. He’s part landlord, part advertiser, part recruiter, among many assorted roles.

Starting or long-established

For businesses, Fantastik offers both space and a steady stream of customers.

More than 7,000 businesses have been spawned at the facility over the 32 years. Some have moved to strip malls or other retail locations, yet many remain. Of the 170 current vendors occupying about 500 booths, 40 percent have been at Fantastik for five years or more, and 25 percent have been there 10 years or longer, Kays said.

“When there are issues with the economy and when there are issues with employment, people need to create their own future, so they start their own businesses. They come to Fantastik. They can start on an entrepreneurial smaller scale.”

While a standard 10-by-10-foot booth rental can cost $560 for a month (12 shopping days), some space can start as low as $200 to $300, depending on location.

The pandemic has created a change for hopeful business owners, Kays said.

“Before the pandemic, it was people who had a dream of opening their own business and acted on it, but now you have the people who feel the need to open their own business and the need to control their own destiny,” he said.

Businesses range from the biggest collection of jewelry vendors in Las Vegas to those offering silk plants, furniture or services such as real estate and insurance or a chiropractor and back massage.

The key to business owners, Kays believes, is a plan and endurance.

“People that are successful are people that have a plan, are willing to work that plan, and are willing to put that time in,” he said. “You’ve got to put the time in. The customer may not shop your place the first or second time, but they are going to remember you.”

Business better

A vendor at Fantastik for more than 20 years, jeweler Frank O’Hara was perfectly satisfied with his layoff during the pandemic.

“We were enjoying the shutdown. When I’d go to exercise he’d (Kays) be there (advertising) on TV, kind of luring me back,” O’Hara said.

T&S Jewelry has done better after the reopening than before the closure, he said.

“It brought out a new crowd of shoppers,” he said, noting shoppers tend to be younger, which he said was unexpected.

Watch and jewelry repairs are in bigger demand, “kind of like they were waiting for somebody to do them.”

“All and all it has been quite successful,” O’Hara said. His wife, Brenda, has her own booth at Fantastik.

32 years of shopping

Consumers have been coming to the swap meet for 32 years. The business has thrived at its west valley location since 1991 after being established in 1988 at Boulder Highway and East Sahara Avenue as Las Vegas Indoor Swap Meet. It is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“The shoppers are always looking for bargains and entertainment,” Kays said.

Savvy shoppers might find bargains.

“Pricing can be aggressive,” Kays said. “The thing is you are dealing one-on-one with the business owner.”

Negotiations are not unheard of.

“There is with some of them, and there isn’t with others. It kind of depends on the price point,” Kays said. “People with a lower price point item have less room to move or less room to talk, while people with a higher price point may have room to talk.”

Fantastik supports its vendors with heavy advertising from print to radio and TV as well as a big social media presence.

Tough times for some

Stroll down one of the many aisles and you’ll find a vendor who offers dental insurance, the next one has jewelry, another offers Pampers by the case, and another sells bamboo bedding. In between are silk flowers, clothing and cellphone accessories. Variety abounds.

Not all business is booming for each vendor.

“Business is down about 90 percent and going down,” said Esmerald Hurtado, owner of This n That, which specializes in cellphone accessories and sports items.

She has relatives who work in casinos and restaurants and says they all tell her that business keeps getting worse across the valley.

“I try different things” to see what will sell, she said. “I’ll keep it (her booth) going at least through Christmas and hope it picks up.”

Safety efforts

With safety paramount in a COVID-19 world, Fantastik follows federal and state guidelines by requiring masks, and it takes an active role in trying to safeguard customers and vendors. Kays noted it has 24 hand sanitizing stations and has up to eight people on the floor watching shoppers and vendors for social distancing and other safety measures.

Contact Marvin Clemons at mclemons@reviewjournal.com. Follow @Marv_in_Vegas on Twitter.

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