The Swap Shop of Fort Lauderdale, FL, began operations in 1963 as the Thunderbird Drive-In Theater, with just 1 movie screen. When founders Betty and Preston Henn learned that drive-in theaters in California were operating weekend flea markets, the Henns in 1966 decided to give it a try.
The flea market quickly proved a success and, as sales increased, the Henns added more screens to the drive-in theater and made enhancements to the flea market.
The main building, which opened in 1979, initially served as an open-air food court with vendors’ booths ringing the perimeter. In 1988, the building was enclosed and air-conditioned.
The following year, the Swap Shop began staging regular concerts and brought in a circus to offer daily performances. The Henns also added a carnival, video game arcade, and other attractions.
Musical performers at the Swap Shop included Willie Nelson, KC and the Sunshine Band, Loretta Lynn, and Three Dog Night. The Country and Western Cable Network televised a number of live concerts that took place at the Swap Shop. The Swap Shop also was highlighted in the PBS America special, “A Flea Market Documentary,” by filmmaker Rick Sebak.
In the 1990s, several additional drive-in movie screens were installed; however, some screens were damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Thirteen screens are currently in use.
Today, the Swap Shop is the largest drive-in movie theater and daily flea market in the world, attracting more than 12 million visitors each year.