Most of us are used to seeing the biggest blockbuster films at the local shopping mall. But your home city’s best IMAX screen pales in the impressive shadow of the Fort Lauder dale Swap Shop. This fourteen-screen multiplex is the world’s largest drive-in movie theater, and also happens to be one of the largest daily flea markets on the planet. The locals call it ‘Florida’s second-biggest tourist attraction’—after Walt Disney World, of course—and it’s immensely popular with both local residents and tourists staying in Fort Lauder dale hotels.
The Swap Shop was originally just the Thunderbird Drive-In Movie Theater, which opened in November 1963, by Betty and Preston Hen. In 1966, Preston Hen began opening the property on weekends for use as a flea market. He was inspired to do so after he took a trip to California, where small businesses and crafters commonly met to swap their wares. The concept had never been tried on the East Coast, but it quickly gained popularity among entrepreneurs in the Fort Lauder dale area.
The Swap Shop added an enclosed, mall-style food court in 1979; by 1980, the drive-in had 11 screens and was home to the region’s largest collective rummage sale. The main building was enclosed and air-conditioned in 1988, and the flea market expanded to operate six days a week. The Hens constructed a stage in the food court in 1989, bringing in well-known country and western performers. Loretta Lynn, Willy Nelson, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Three Dog Night all played the Swap Shop stage, paid for by the Hen family—patrons never paid a cent to see these famous acts. The singers shared the stage with the Hanna ford Family Circus, who performed every day up until their retirement in 2006.
The Swap Shop is visited by roughly 12 million people each year. Sellers set up their booths by 5 am, and some are sold out just a few hours later; visitors can find ties, cologne, fruit and vegetables, house wares, and even aesthetic services. The fourteen screens of the drive-in show the latest blockbusters, and the performances on the stage are always free for patrons. There are carnival rides and a video arcade, sure to entertain those who aren’t fascinated by the tables of antique and handmade wares. So if you’re staying at the B Ocean Fort Lauder dale and are looking for something do so, be sure to spend a day wandering around the Swap Shop. You never know what you might find!