Kobey's Celebrates 30 Swapping Years at the Sports Arena
This August, Kobey's Swap Meet celebrates thirty years of operation at the San Diego Sports Arena. Kobey's outdoor market is as much a San Diego success story as it is a place to find great bargains, unique items and hundreds of garage sales.
Each member of the Kobey family has played a part in the market's accomplishments, from dad Monte, the business patriarch who opened the market in 1976, to his children and grandchildren who have appeared in company ads and now help run the swap meet.
Monte Kobey launched his San Diego swap meet in 1976 at the Midway Drive-In with only thirteen sellers. The swap stayed at the drive-in for several years until it was slated to close. In August 1980 Monte moved the swap to the nearby Sports Arena. The Sports Arena's exposed and busy location helped Kobey's Swap Meet take off in earnest.
In 2010, Kobey's Swap Meet at the Sports Arena is still San Diego's biggest outdoor market, drawing close to 25,000 shoppers and nearly 1,000 sellers weekly.
Monte Kobey is remembered for his knack for business and saavy showmanship. In the 80's, Kobey earned celebrity status in San Diego with a series of successful billboard and television ad campaigns. The most notable was the "I Want You" ad, where a towering Monte directed a pointed finger at mobile viewers.
These campaigns brought Kobey's Swap Meet record numbers of shoppers and sellers and established the market as a major San Diego attraction.
However, the Kobey family experienced sudden tragedy when Monte contracted the AIDS virus from a blood transfusion during heart surgery. He later died from the disease in 1989.
The family used the tragedy to create the Monte Kobey AIDS Fellowship Endowment Committee which raises funds for AIDS research and treatment at UCSD Medical Center's Owen Clinic. Charlotte Kobey-Morton, Monte's widow, continues this and other philanthropic work.
During her father's illness, daughter Kimberly Kobey-Pretto stepped up to the leadership role. Already well familiar with every aspect of the family business from sweeping the parking lot to running the day-to-day operations, she became President and CEO of The Kobey Corp. in July 1988.
Under Kobey-Pretto's management, Kobey's Swap Meet solidified its reputation as a clean, family-oriented outdoor marketplace. Over the years she's been able to keep the numbers stable despite increased retail competition and shifts in the local economy. In recognition of Kobey-Pretto's achievements, the U.S.-Mexico Foundation named her Entrepreneur of the Year in 1992.
Always the entrepreneurs, the Kobey's have not been afraid to delve into new and unknown territory over the years. Monte made the first attempt at expansion with Kobey's Downtown (the market which launched Music Trader) in 1987. Under Kim's tenure, Kobey's tried an Auto Swap in 1996, as well as new markets in Chula Vista and Fairplex in Pomona. The swap meet also was a site for a Farmer's Market in 2001.
Although these ventures didn't prove successful in the long run, other plans have come to fruition.
Most notably, The Kobey Corporation, Kobey's parent company, was able to renew its previous contract with MTS and North County Transit as Master Concessionaire. Kim's husband, Charles "Chuck" Pretto, corporate counsel and vice-president, has led the way to this and other successful side projects including San Diego Portable ATM. A member of Rotary International, he is involved in Camp Enterprise as well as other youth leadership programs in the community.
Anthony Pretto, Kim & Chuck's son, currently works at the family business as an Assistant Manager on weekends while studying in town at Mesa College. Anthony appeared on many of the popular billboard ads of the 80's. His sister Liza Pretto helps out at the swap when she isn't away at University of Arizona.
Currently Kobey's is seeing both the shopper and seller side of business pick up as the economy struggles to recover from the 2008-2009 crash.
The reason Kobey's is still going strong after all this time is the American entrepreneurial spirit. Kobey's appeals to the little guy just starting out in business because it offers low overhead and abundant foot traffic. But while new vendors join the market daily, others have moved on or passed away. Kobey's would like to thank those vendors still going strong who have made Kobey's their home for thirty plus years.