Since 1986, West African immigrants Eric Duda and his older brother Don, have run Amina, a boutique shop that features mostly African and West Indian products, including incense, body oils, arts, music, and clothing, with relatively few problems inside of the Korean-owned Slauson Swapmeet.
Together they account for one of only two Black vendors inside the swap meet that caters to a heavily African American clientele. The swap meet is known as much for its wide selection and cheap prices as it is for the Korean shop owners who shout in thick accents, “You buy from me, I give you good deal!”
But around noon on Friday, Sept. 9, a wave of panic swept through the 176,853-square-foot building located at 1600 W. Slauson Ave. and its 110 vendors, when strangers showed up with legal documents explaining to the vendors that they were not to make their monthly lease payments to swap meet owners Michael and Sandra Yoon.
Instead, the vendors were told to send their monthly lease, utility payments, and standing monthly $258 payment for the swap meet’s security guards to Charles Hokanson, who was simply listed as the “attorney for judgment creditors.”
“I didn’t know what this was about,” said Eric. “I know in the past the owners have had some legal issues and have been sued before, but receiving these papers today came out of the blue and I think shocked all of the vendors in here.”
According to the Los Angeles Superior Court documents, the Yoons, owners of the Slauson Swapmeet since it first opened in 1986, failed to pay their monthly lease of $155,766.19 on Oct. 20, 2010, to Kayla Properties, LLC, prompting Kayla to file a lawsuit against the couple on Nov. 3, 2010. Subsequently, the Yoon’s were ordered to pay the back rent, the plaintiff’s attorney fees, court and other fees. Hence, the order for the subtenants to pay their rent directly to the attorney.
The Yoon’s have exercised two of three options to extend the term of the original lease, and the current lease doesn’t expire until 2015.
When Kayla Properties purchased the land on April 12, 2006, for $12,600,000, the Yoon’s original lease was transferred to them.
Seemingly recession proof, the Slauson Swapmeet has the capacity to host 129 subtenants who heretofore paid a monthly lease to the Yoon’s, who in turn paid Kayla Properties.
Of the 129 spaces available for rent, about 19 are currently vacant. Still, the Yoons collect about $330,312 monthly from 110 tenants. The median rents for a subtenant are between $2,500 and $3,000–a small percentage of their monthly intake from selling popular items to mainly African American and Latino customers, including gold trunk jewelry, colored contact lenses, designer knockoff purses, lingerie, cell phones, hair extensions, car rims, shoes, and clothes.
A spokesman said the principal owners of Kayla Properties were out of the country and no one was available to speak on the record.
While the fate of the Yoon’s ownership of the Slauson Swapmeet beyond their lease extension is up in the air, there’s no need for shoppers to panic. That’s because regardless of the judgment, the swap meet continues to be open Sunday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.