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‘What am I going to do?’: Redwood Swap Meet vendors lament possible property redevelopment

WEST VALLEY CITY — As West Valley City leaders weigh a rezoning proposal that could force hundreds of vendors to vacate the Redwood Swap Meet site, Estela Paredes ponders her future.

“What am I going to do? I don’t know,” she said, tending to the produce stand at the West Valley City flea market that’s been the source of her livelihood for some 30 years. “Where am I going to work?”

EDGEHomes is proposing redevelopment of the 26.3-acre site where the Redwood Drive-In Theatre and Redwood Swap Meet share space, a move that would displace the vendors who operate at the location, many of them immigrants. The Draper-based developer, which is seeking a rezone of the property to allow its plans to move forward, is proposing construction of 308 new housing units on the site, including 250 townhomes, 40 condos and 18 single-family homes.

The Redwood land “is being sold because the business no longer yields an acceptable rate of return based upon the value of the land,” Ralph Nardoni, president of De Anza Land and Leisure Corp., the Los Angeles-based company that owns the property, said in June 8 letter to the city. At the same time, operators of the family-owned business are aging, Nardoni said, and don’t want to run “management-intensive properties.”

Whatever the spur for the redevelopment proposal — focus of a heated West Valley Planning Commission meeting last Wednesday — many vendors are rising up against the plans. Abigail Gutierrez, who with several other family members operates multiple stands at the swap meet, said places like Redwood give immigrants a means of operating a business and earning a living that might not otherwise be possible.

Abigail Gutierrez at her stand at the Redwood Swap Meet in West Valley City on Saturday, June 15, 2024.
Abigail Gutierrez at her stand at the Redwood Swap Meet in West Valley City on Saturday, June 15, 2024. (Photo: Tim Vandenack,

Some 500 vendors operate at the swap meet, estimates Cristian Gutierrez, Abigail Gutierrez’s brother, selling produce, clothing, sports equipment, tools and much, much more. They come from Mexico, Venezuela, other nations of Latin America, Afghanistan, Korea, Pakistan and Vietnam, among many other countries.

The parents of the Gutierrez siblings, originally from Mexico, made ends meet and helped put their kids through college via a business at Redwood and, before that, a swap meet in California. “We grew up in swap meets,” Abigail Gutierrez said.

Now the Gutierrez family also has a brick-and-mortar clothing store in South Salt Lake thanks to the business acumen of the elder couple’s kids. But most of the operators at Redwood are immigrants, Abigail Gutierrez said, dependent by and large on the money they make at the swap meet. “This is the place where they can come and not have to rely on government assistance,” she said.

Cristian Gutierrez, who’s helped lead the public charge against redevelopment on behalf of swap meet operators, sees Redwood as an incubator of business operators. Closing it to make way for housing “would basically be taking away 500 startups in one sweep,” he said.

Paredes said her produce stand is her only source of income. She’s originally from Puebla, Mexico. “I don’t ask anything of the government,” she said.

Felipe Silva, who’s sold religious items at the Redwood Swap Meet for 17 years, said closing the site to make way for housing would impact vendors who use the space as well as owners of adjacent businesses that get traffic from swap meet shoppers. “It’d be a domino effect. It would impact a lot of people,” he said.

Batool Dalal, originally from Pakistan, operates a clothing outlet at the swap meet to supplement her full-time job. She shudders at the notion of Redwood closing. “I don’t even want to think about it because I’m a single mom,” she said.

(Closing the Redwood Swap Meet to make way for housing) would basically be taking away 500 startups in one sweep.

– Cristian Gutierrez

Sam Johnson, spokesman for West Valley City, said the issue will likely come up for deliberation at the next West Valley Planning City Commission meeting later in June. The commission is tasked with making a recommendation on the proposed rezone that’s required before housing development can occur. The West Valley City Council, though, would have the ultimate say on the rezoning proposal and Johnson suspects the body will act sometime in July or August.

“It’s still got another month or two,” he said.

Though the rezone would be required to allow for residential construction, a developer could still build a commercial operation on the land without going through the city since the property is zoned for such development.

According to the De Anza Land and Leisure Corp.’s letter to West Valley City, the business once operated eight drive-in theaters and three indoor theaters. “With the exception of the Redwood, all of those operations have been discontinued or sold for redevelopment many years ago,” Nardoni wrote in the letter, alluding to the flagging fortunes of drive-in theaters.

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