I saw Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return there. I also saw Dr. No, the first James Bond movie starring Sean Connery there and Jerry Lewis in The Family Jewels about a dozen times there. The "there" was the Star Lite Drive-In Theater on South Tacoma Way. Drive-in theaters are almost a relic of a by-gone era, but the Star Lite still exists as a swap meet. As a swap meet the Star Lite has been around for years, but Peg and I had never been there. It was time to stop in and see what the heck we've been missing.
First of all there is more to the swap meet than the roadways and ramps of the old drive-in movie. The posts with their wires and speakers are gone and the gravel has been replaced with asphalt. The property is surrounded by parking lots owned by Star Lite and on busy days they even have valet parking. Our visit was not on a busy day. Only nice shiny day weekends in the spring and summer are busy days.
On a foggy January Sunday we parked near the entrance. Alongside the old movie grounds there is a huge building where you enter and pay a dollar. Outside the building we were serenaded by guitar and harmonica. The entertainer was playing for tips, meaning it was going to be an awful lean day for the excellent musician. We were there right around noon. The parking lot we used was perhaps a third full. There were no crowds, anywhere.
The market is not being overwhelmed with seamstresses, but we found one inside. Peg had purchased two cotton Hawaiian shirts for me a year and a half ago, while we were in Hawaii. We're going back for a couple of weeks and buttons needed to be replaced. Also, one of the seams were coming apart. Our seamstress repaired both shirts for a total of ten dollars. She did a nice job. Peg chatted with her talking about sewing, while I wandered around.
I think the building is about the size of a football field. It's divided in half. During the week the back half is kept under lock and key behind chain link fencing. The booths inside the fence are for weekend sellers only. The other half are for sellers who are open Tuesday through Sunday. Hank Bardon, the owner of Star Lite plans on building an elevator to the second floor, which currently is not in use. This will double the space and give more people an opportunity to sell products and more opportunity for people to purchase super deals.
There is a vast difference between the sellers who take part in the Street Fair and those who have booths inside. The booths inside are set up to have steady customers. The hours for the indoor sellers may run from 8:00a 6 6:00p on the weekends and from 9:00a - 6:00p Tuesday through Friday. Inside sellers have to be open by noon. The inside sellers offer gold buying, jewelry, leather boots, tattoos, alterations, saddles, ethnic foods, and more.
Many of the outside Street Fair people look like they are scrambling to get by. Sometimes they are selling items from the back for their cars, sometimes on folding tables, and sometimes just spread out on blankets or rugs like traders of old. Outside sellers give you a feel that it's a large garage sale. There are good deals to be had both indoors and outdoors (Street Fair or inside the old drive-in grounds).
As I wandered around the Street Fair, which seems like the weekend markets we visited in Italy and Spain a few years ago, I bought a hunting knife. I like to have a knife at my desk for opening boxes, letters and to protect me from any obstreperous wild animal that might come along. Rather than keep the knife in its leather sheath, which would require a few seconds to extricate, I merely slide the knife into my stack of files, which are within an easy reach.
My first knife was given to me by my mom's little brother. It was a sparkly gold pen knife. I've had many knives since. As a boy I would practice throwing the knife at the ground in friendly games of "mumbly peg" or at tree stumps. The game of mumbly peg involves throwing a knife as close as possible to your foot. You can win the game by sticking the knife in your foot, but this is not recommended. I would be horrified if I saw my grandchildren playing this game, but we live in a much kinder and gentler world today . . . yeah.
My new hunting knife has a six inch blade. It's made in Pakistan with stainless steel and a pakka wood handle. It was still in the box with an asking price of ten dollars. It has a tough leather sheath. In a sporting goods store it would run about $25. I didn't dicker. Ten was a good enough deal for me. I like to give value and get value. I know the techniques for buying and have used them for buying fancy stuff for my wife as well as a full television studio and everything in-between from cars to lawn mowing services.
My buddy John Reding of JR Reding furniture refinishing and restoration frequents the Star Lite often and when I saw him later that evening he had a Nikon digital SLR camera. He paid $150 for the camera, a case, a separate flash unite, and a medium range zoom lens. I'm sure the asking price was much higher. Money talks . . . and cold hard cash absolutely screams. My favorite bargaining trick is to simply show the money and ask "Is that the best you can do?" John got a great deal. That camera was easily worth about three hundred more than he paid for it.
The Mexican restaurant inside the main building looked inviting. When Hank contracted with them his main stipulation was that their equipment be no more than four years old. Just like our friend Wendy Au of Wendy's Vietnamese, the restaurant owners bought brand new equipment. Their food was exceptional. I loved the little condiment bar where you could choose your sauce as well as sliced radishes and pickled carrots. I'll come back just for the carrots.
Peg had a "mulato" which was fried corn tortillas sandwiching beef, cheese and guacamole. There was a mulato pepper served on the plate as well. The flesh was good, but I would recommend you stay away from the seeds unless you are used to eating Mexican food.
The people were friendly, the service was quick, and the prices were very reasonable.
Inside the fences of the old drive-in there are many covered and not so covered booths open on the weekend. I should have purchased some fresh baked goods, but had my hands full. I stopped at a table with electronics. An older Asian man, the seller, liked my Pentax camera. I let him look it over, "Nice," he said. He showed me a 3CCD Panasonic camcorder, which was priced at $230. If there had been more cash in my pocket I would have made an offer. The next time I visit the Star Lite, I'll bring more cash.
My last purchase was a black soap stone polar bear. I liked the look of it. It was priced at $5. The price was right. No offer, I just bought. I checked it out on the computer once I was back in my office with my knife stuck in the files. The bear was marked "BOMA," and is probably worth about ten times what I paid. It was created by Canadian native people artists.
Peg was impressed with the swap meet. It wasn't at all what she expected. She said, "I liked the little kids and the families." The kids she was referring to were both the children of sellers and buyers. They weren't running wild, just looking around and being kids. Everyone was well behaved. The Star Lite is located at 84th and South Tacoma Way, which actually places the swap meet in Lakewood. I think the city of Lakewood makes more money from the swap meet than any single seller. To rent space you have to have both a Washington State Master business license, and a City of Lakewood business license. Just to sell at the swap meet sellers must have a City of Lakewood business license or a "seller's permit" from the City of Lakewood. Actually, even to have a garage sale at your own home, requires a seller permit, but that is rarely enforced. If you have questions about the swap meet call (253) 588-8090.
Our last image of the swap meet was a forlorn sign waver on the corner of 84th and South Tacoma Way. He was trying to divert what little traffic there was to a furniture sale down the block and across the street from the Star lite.
We had a fun adventure attending the swap meet. I think we'll return just for the food and probably with a pocket full of cash to see what bargains we can make our own.