During this time of Covid-19 the survival of small businesses has moved to the forefront of economic recovery. All government, whether it be federal, state, or local has made it a priority to try and save these independent businesses.

However, at the OC Fairgrounds, we have a standoff with hundreds of small Mom and Pop businesses caught in the crossfire.

Spectra, is the contracted operator of the OC Marketplace, otherwise known as the “Swap Meet” at the fairgrounds. Over the past few years, the swap meet has found itself struggling due to several factors, not the least of which is online shopping. Spectra has been attempting to reconfigure and rejuvenate the swap meet with a temporary financial partnership, to be repaid, with the fairgrounds. However, those requests have been met with silence.

The swap meet has been the longest tenant on the OC Fairgrounds, having celebrated their 50th anniversary last year. Should a prospective event come in the rental rates, according to OCFair.com, for a parking lot, the size of what is used by the swap meet, are approximately $4,000/day and just over $21,000/day to rent the entire property which includes all buildings plus employees.

Spectra’s current contract calls for an annual rent of $2.1 million dollars equating to just over $23,000/day for a small portion of the parking lot with no Fair employees. Pacific Amphitheatre can be rented for $9000/ day and it is $23,000/day for a small portion of a parking lot? Something is not making sense here.

Fast forward to the time of Covid-19. Every business is attempting to renegotiate contracts and leases to survive. Spectra is no different than other businesses. However, the livelihoods of hundreds of small merchants and a thousand employees depend on a successful renegotiation and the Fairgrounds has dug its heels in and is holding Spectra to the original contract- the contract that has their longest tenant paying over 5 times the going rate for a portion of an empty parking lot.

In the meantime, all the vendors, such as ourselves, are in limbo. We have now come to realize that the reopening of the OC Marketplace is dependent on these two entities, Spectra, and the Fairgrounds, coming to an agreement.

There is an empty parking lot generating zero income. The OC Fair staff has said that they are projecting a budget deficit of approximately $18 million this year. At this point the only people who are going to make money on this travesty will be the attorneys. Does it not make more sense to give Spectra a temporary rent reduction instead of paying the lawyers? Why will they not negotiate with Spectra so that vendors can get back to doing what we do best- serving the community? Vendors are drowning in debt from having to close with no warning- debt consisting of inventory that had already been purchased with no place to sell.

We ask that Spectra and the OC Fairgrounds set aside any differences and remember the years they have been aligned and come to an arrangement that will allow the OC Marketplace to reopen as soon as possible based on safety and guidance from the Governor of California.

Jeanine Robbins, along with her husband Mike, has been an OC Marketplace vendor for 40+ years. She has been a longtime resident of Anaheim and one of the founding members of the People’s Homeless Task Force as well Housing is a Human Right OC. 

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