TAMPA — It’s the end of an era for Tampa’s Fun-Lan Drive-in Theatre and Swap Shop.
Manager Candy Snell spent Friday packing up the last of the equipment and picking up her last check after working there for five years. She said she learned last week that the property was going to be sold and that flea market vendors had to clear out by week’s end.
The drive-in’s iconic marquee read, “We will miss you.”
Jerry Corgnati said he is the temporary manager of Florida Swap Shop, the company that has run the drive-in and flea market. He said on Friday that the sale has not been finalized, and that he doesn’t know who’s buying the property. Site owner Betty Henn was not immediately available because she’s on vacation, he said.
Fun-Lan opened in January 1950 and could accommodate more than 650 cars, according to an ad printed in the Tampa Tribune. Admission was 48 cents. In the 1980s, the theater added a flea market during the day to stay afloat, according to newspaper archives.
Many drive-in theaters have closed over the decades. There were more than 2,000 drive-ins across the country in 1987, according to data from the National Association of Theatre Owners. In 2020, there were fewer than 550.
At one point, the Tampa Tribune reported, Tampa had more than 25 drive-in theaters. By 1994, Fun-Lan was the last one open and remained so until now. The outdoor screen had its last showing in August, Snell said.
“We have been discussing closing the theater part down for a couple of years. It wasn’t making any money,” Snell said, adding, “iPads and stuff like that killed the theater, because now it’s too easy to watch movies on your phone.”
The site at 2302 E Hillsborough Ave. was bought in 2001 by Preston Henn, according to county property records. Henn owned the Fort Lauderdale-based Swap Shop until he died in 2017. The company now belongs to his wife, Betty Henn, and has two locations in South Florida, in addition to the one in Tampa.
The Tampa property has been for sale for several years following the death of Preston Henn, Corgnati said.
Daniel Angulo, a vendor at the flea market, said he was shocked when he heard he had to leave in a matter of days. He said he spent most of Thursday packing up the pieces of the business he owns with his brother, Carolina Seafood Inc., and loading them into a pickup truck.
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“It was about 25 years worth of work right there, just hauled off the property,” Angulo said.
The business was supposed to be on a short break until January, Angulo said, and now he has to tell customers that he doesn’t know when he’ll restart operations.
Angulo said he’ll miss seeing people who traveled from places like Orlando and Fort Myers to come to the Tampa flea market.
“It was such an iconic place. People from other counties were actually visiting,” Angulo said. “You can find almost anything that you wanted.”
Working at Fun-Lan wasn’t only a job for Snell — it was like a family.
“A lot of these vendors have gone through marriages, divorces, babies and graduations. We’ve gone through a lot together.” Snell said. “During the pandemic, we stayed in touch and talked on the phone.”
Snell said she doesn’t know what she’ll do next. She may work at another flea market in Plant City or Lakeland. She’s emotional about Fun-Lan closing, she said, but she’s hopeful about her next chapter.
“They say to find something that you love doing and then call it a job. And that’s what I did,” Snell said. “I really enjoyed being out here at the flea market and being with my flea market family.”
Staff photographer Ivy Ceballo contributed to this report.