The Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop was started by Betty and Preston Henn in November, 1963. At that time it was known as the Thunderbird Drive-In Movie Theater and featured one screen and no flea market! The opening night turned out to be a bad choice of dates - President John Kennedy was shot and killed that same day. However, in spite of an inauspicious start, the drive-in grew in both popularity and size.
In 1966, Mr. Henn began utilizing the property as a weekend flea market. This was an innovation which Preston had first seen in California. However, it was the first time the concept had been tried on the East Coast. This allowed many small business owners to get their start - some going on to become entrepreneurs in their own right. In 1979 the main building was opened to create an open air food court with vender booths around the perimeter. At that time the flea market began operating Wednesdays through Sundays. In December of 1988 the building was enclosed and air conditioned. The flea market went to six days a week.
Preston continued innovating when he brought in local entertainers to perform in the food court. In 1989, after constructing a stage, he started having regular concerts, featuring name acts from both the country and western arena and well known 60's and 70's performers. Everyone from Willy Nelson to KC And The Sunshine Band - Lorretta Lynn to Three Dog Night - all played on the Swap Shop stage, provided free of charge by the Henn Family - much to the chagrin of other local venues. They even hired a circus to provide daily performances. A carnival, video game arcade, and Dancing Waters show were added to complete the fun. The Swap Shop stage was featured on the Country and Western cable TV network for a whole series of live broadcasts that culminated with Willie Nelson.
The Swap Shop was featured on a PBS special, "A Fleamarket Documentary" in 2002, and has been seen all over the world on numerous travelogue series shown on every major television market around the world.
The Swap Shop is the most unique shopping experience anywhere, and has become a landmark business in South Florida. The Swap Shop is the second largest South Florida attraction with visitors from not only the United States and Canada but many foreign countries as well! It's not a surprise that in 1990 alone more than 12 million people visited the now world famous SWAP SHOP.