Standing over 6 feet tall with slicked-back hair and a toothy grin, Hank Bardon walks the grounds of the swap meet he owns in Lakewood at the former site of the Star-Lite Drive-In.
Wearing jeans and Air Jordan sneakers, the 71-year-old Bardon weaves through rows of vendors before he stops, mid-stride.
He waves his arm in a wide arc over the bustling marketplace of nearly 800 vendors, located in the 8300 block of South Tacoma Way.
“This place isn’t a crime haven,” he says of the property he bought at auction 11 years ago. “It’s a gift from God.”
Bardon, who has a history of bumpy relations with Lakewood City Hall, is fired up these days about regulations the city imposed this summer that he believes are unfair to the Star Lite Swap Meet.
The biggest change: The hours that secondhand vendors can operate have been cut in half.
The city says the new ordinance, which went into effect June 8, is intended to prevent the sale of stolen property and to hold secondhand vendors accountable.
It requires all such vendors to record details of every sale over $75, and to submit those details to the city and the chief of police every day.
Vendors must provide a picture of the item and the customer’s personal information, taken from a state-issued ID card or driver’s license. The transaction must then be submitted to the city by computer.
The most sweeping change reclassifies any business operating at a “flea market” as temporary, restricting total days of operation.
No longer can vendors purchase an annual business license and operate year-round. They are now restricted to only two temporary business licenses per year, good for 90 days apiece.
Instead of a possible 365 days of operation costing $60, they are now restricted to 180 days of operation at a cost of $120.
The process of licensing the vendors at the Star Lite has been an ongoing concern for the city.
“We used to issue 1,500 temporary permits per year for vendors out there,” said Dave Bugher, Lakewood’s director of community development. “Licenses were being routinely transferred between family members. There was no accountability.”
Bugher said the city business code had not changed since it was written in 1996, and changes were overdue. It was brought into line with state requirements, he said.
But Bardon believes the ordinance goes too far.
“First of all, it’s an invasion of privacy,” he said. “ If the city wants us to take all of that information to sell something, it’ll put us out of business.”
Bugher said the changes are geared for all secondhand vendors.
“The city is not singling out Bardon,” he said.
But Bugher also acknowledged problems with the Star Lite and its owner.
“Hank does not play by the rules unless he is forced to do so.”
The Star-Lite Drive-In opened on the property in 1948 and was later converted into a swap meet. In 2001, the Internal Revenue Service seized the property during an investigation into a Lakewood crime family.
Bardon paid $7.2 million for the site at auction in 2004.
The city has conducted several sweeps and inspections of the Star Lite throughout the years. A multi-agency inspection in 2010 led to the eviction of 32 vendors who were operating without business licenses. Police officers also seized at least a half-dozen tools without serial numbers that may have been stolen.
Bardon believes Lakewood has a vendetta against the Star Lite. Recent history between the two parties includes acrimonious negotiations over parking for customers and vendors, said Steve Burnham, Bardon’s attorney.
The city has taken issue with weekend crowds outside the swap meet, Bardon said.
Some vendors interviewed by The News Tribune reported hardships caused by the new regulations.
Frank Hilton sells a variety of tools and tchotchkes that he finds at garages sales and storage unit auctions. He’s been selling at the swap meet for 30 years.
“The city … is making it really hard on me,” Hilton said. “I’m on social security, and I’m trying to supplement my income.”
Wayne Hudson has been selling tools, clothing and trinkets at the swap meet for five years.
“How many more rules will they pass until they shut us down?” Hudson said. “No one is out here selling drugs or guns or prostitution. We’re just trying to make a few extra dollars.”
Bugher said the city is listening to complaints and will review the new regulations sometime in the future.
Lt. Chris Lawler, spokesman for the Lakewood Police Department, said there are many places in the city where used items are sold, not just at the Star Lite, but most are pawn shops that have record keeping in place to maintain accountability.
“In an open-air market like the Star Lite, it’s a little easier to do things that are sneaky,” he said.
Lawler was not able to provide statistics about reports of stolen property at the Star Lite compared to elsewhere in the Lakewood city limits.
He said there will need to be an education component to go along with the new secondhand vendor rules.
A violation of the new ordinance is a civil infraction and could result in revocation of a business license and a $500 fine. A second violation could result in a $1,000 fine. Third and subsequent violations carry a fine of $2,000 per day.
“You have to be fair,” Lawler said. “If we’ve given warning, then our actions are defensible.”