Q&A: Kobey's Swap Meet is a Family Affair

If you’ve lived a bit of the San Diego lifestyle - even just for a weekend - you know Kobey’s Swap Meet.

The name is synonymous with sunshiny Saturdays spent with the family, where hidden treasures await. The name has resonated with locals for over 35 years.

And for good reason. A functioning market can only withstand the test of time by the strength of the sincere, hardworking folks who make it happen weekend after weekend. Kobey’s Swap Meet, as many know or could guess from the gracious smiles that abound, is a family affair and multi-generational company. Started by Monte Kobey in 1976, the Swap Meet has been passed down to his children and grandchildren who all play an integral part in the production.

With any company spanning more than three decades, the family has learned that as times change, so must they. Now, their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages see just as much traffic as the meet does on a weekend. We chatted with Anthony Pretto, the Operations Manager, Advertising Director and Director of Social Media (and grandson of Monte Kobey), to get the scoop on how the Swap Meet has remained a San Diego staple.

DiscoverSD: First off, tell us about the history of Kobey’s Swap Meet.

Anthony Pretto: Kobey’s Swap Meet was founded by my grandfather Monte Kobey in August 1976. At the time, he was living in Phoenix helping manage the Park & Swap at Funk’s Greyhound Racing, when an opportunity became available from Dusty Bernard. He owned the piece of property where the Midway drive-in stood, which is now where Soup Plantation & Denny’s sit on the corner of West Point Loma and Sports Arena Blvd.

It started with 13 sellers and 200 shoppers. In 1980, Monte knew he had to relocate as the drive-in was going to be torn down to make way for a shopping center. He moved just down the street to the San Diego Sports Arena in August 1980, and that is when Kobey’s Swap Meet was born!

DSD: How are you personally connected to the history of Kobey’s?

AP: I just celebrated my 25th birthday, so I always tell people I’ve been associated with Kobey’s my whole life! Monte Kobey was my grandfather and my mother is Kimberly Kobey Pretto. I was the first grandchild in the Kobey Pretto family, and at the time I was born in January of 1988, my grandfather’s health was deteriorating. I was turned into the poster child of numerous ad campaigns. When people ask me how long I have worked for Kobey’s, I say I was born here!

DSD: How does the whole family play a part in the Kobey’s function?

AP: We are truly a family affair. I have worked fulltime with Kobey’s since 2007. Over my years, I have slowly learned every aspect of the operation. I love it because I get to work with my parents and my family every day.

My grandfather founded it, but he tragically died in 1989, which is when my mother Kimberly became the President of the company. My father Charles Pretto is our Vice President & Legal Affairs Department. My dad’s youngest brother Joseph is our Director of Sellers and has been with Kobey’s since 1988. My sister Elizabeth, who is 22, recently graduated from the University of Arizona and has worked as a cashier during her summers here. I also have one cousin, Shane Flagstad, who is a cashier as well. 

DSD: What makes Kobey's Swap Meet better now, than ever before?

AP: Kobey’s has been a San Diego tourist destination for over 35 years. The BEST thing about Kobey’s is that every weekend, there is something new to see! We don’t have the same merchandise that you would find at a mall or a retail store. Each weekend we have over 1,000 sellers that feature everything from new name brand clothing to new electronics, as well as hundreds of garage sellers and some amazing treasured antiques.

DSD: What can locals expect to find at the Swap Meet?

AP: Locals can expect to find amazing deals on new clothing. For example, we have a few vendors who sell samples of name brand clothing. One seller specializes in women’s clothing from Forever 21 for $10 an item; another great one sells Obey clothing t-shirts for $8.

We also have a large following of antique dealers who shop at Kobey’s every weekend looking for dressers, artwork, home goods, collectibles and so much more.

DSD: How does Kobey’s reflect a true San Diego spirit?

AP: The thing about Kobey’s is that there is nothing like it anywhere else in the city. We are centrally located off the 5 and 8 freeways. San Diegans love to be outdoors, and what’s better than shopping under the sun every weekend? We have over 20 acres full of bargains.

DSD: What do you think is the key behind Kobey’s success over the years?

AP: A lot of our success is due to the fact that my grandfather was a marketing genius and established the Kobey name as a household brand here in San Diego, which carried through the years.

We have also been successful due to the people who make the swap meet each weekend - our shoppers and sellers! As I mentioned, each weekend we have over 1,000 sellers weekly and over 25,000 shoppers each weekend. Over 1 million people walk through our gates each year.

DSD: How has social media played into the growth of Kobey’s?

AP: It was little over two years ago that I was on my personal Facebook page, and I thought that this was a great way to connect with our shoppers all over the world to keep them updated on what’s happening here at Kobey’s Swap Meet! So in the past two years, we have grown our Facebook to have almost 20,000 likes. We have a Twitter with 1,500 followers. And each weekend, we film videos on featured merchandise or sellers at the Swap Meet and have complied over 150 of them on YouTube at Kobey’s TV!

DSD: What are some key aspects of Kobey’s that make it a fun place for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon?

AP: Kobey’s is a great way to spend time with family or friends for a few hours. It costs $2 on Saturdays or Sundays (and $1 on Fridays). The best time to shop at Kobey’s is from 11am-2pm! Come down and have a bag of mini donuts or a corn dog with fresh lemonade while you stroll our wonderful world of bargains. You might find some old records, buy a bouquet of flowers, a new bed for the dog or some awesome t-shirts.

DSD: What are five must-see vendors at Kobey’s?

AP: We have over 1,000 sellers each weekend, so it’s too difficult to pick five. Some of my favorites are flowers, fresh fruit, women’s and men’s clothing, pet supplies and antiques.

DSD: What’s your favorite part about working (and living) in San Diego?

AP: We don’t realize it, but we live and work in paradise! I was born and raised here in San Diego, went through Francis Parker School K-12, and then started working for my family when I was 20. I hope to work for them until I retire! Kobey’s wouldn’t be anywhere as successful as it has been without the beautiful weather in San Diego. Kobey’s Swap Meet is a San Diego institution, and I hope it will be here another 35 years.

Come discover Kobey’s Swap Meet for yourself, running on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 7am to 3pm at 3500 Sports Arena Blvd. 619.226.0650. Find out more information at kobeyswap.com.



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