The Portland Swap Meet celebrates its 50th anniversary April 4-6 with some 3,500 vendors and thousands more shoppers showing up at the Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center.
The meet is staged by a group of six local car clubs, which merged their separate swap meetings into one event that has become what is the largest of its kind in the northwestern United States and western Canada.
“The clubs decided to get together instead of each having its own garage sale,” said Dave Van Winkle, a more than 20-year swap meet veteran, chairman since 2001 and a long-time member of the Columbia River Region Group of the Early Ford V-8 Club of America.
Other clubs involved in staging the Portland swap meet are the Historical Automobile Club of Oregon, the Portland Region Group of the Horseless Carriage Club of America, the Columbia River Region of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America, the Beaver Chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America and the Rose City chapter of the Model T Ford Club of America.
Club newsletters report that HACO and the Model A and T clubs were the first to get together for a single event, which was held in an abandoned building slated for demolition to make way for Interstate 405. After that building was gone, the event moved to the second floor of the Joe Fisher Ford dealership. The sale next moved to a warehouse building in Beaverton, then to what now is known as the Expo Center.
However, at one point, a former swap meet chairman visited the big annual classic car parts sale and car show held at Hershey, Pa., and liked the way vendors would work out of their motorhomes. As a result, the Portland swap meet moved out to Portland International Raceway, which it rented for the sale weekend.
But one year, Van Winkle explained, the race track was doing construction and asked the swap meet to move from its usual April date. Instead, it moved to the Expo Center, though it still runs parking shuttles from the track as well as from Portland Meadows, the local horse-racing facility.
Visitors also can reach the Expo Center from the Portland light-rail system.
New for the 50th anniversary celebration is a swap meet Facebook page on which many vendors are previewing their wares.
“People like the party and the fun and the thrill of the search and discovery,” said Jim Zahniser, event spokesman. “But one of the things that’s also fun is if you know what booth to go to first for what you really want.“The swap meet draws people from as far away as Alberta and down to Sacramento. It’s probably the biggest swap in this region,” Zahniser said.
“And,” Van Winkle added, “it’s not a flea market. “We have a small area for antiques and collectibles, but we try to be completely automotive.”