Vendors at Los Amigos Mall demand answers after owner decides to 'permanently' close

By Alma Villegas
Reyna Tapia helps a customer outside Los Amigos Mall, Los Angeles, Calif., June 13, 2020. The blue poster sign next to both of them reads, "We want a fair dialogue. Support Los Amigos Mall."

When the small business owners of a local swap meet received a 30-day eviction notice last month, they couldn't believe it. Many of them have served the South Central community for decades.

“The mayor said no one could be evicted during the pandemic. Where are our rights?” asked Reyna Tapia, 52, one of the vendors facing eviction. Vendors haven't worked since March when the swap meet closed to follow "Safer at Home" orders.“The owner has not faced us, he just sent us a letter saying we had one month to clear out. He hasn’t given us an explanation.”

On May 20, Roberta Torres, president of Los Amigos Mall, sent all tenants a 30-day eviction notice which stated the swap meet would "permanently" close due to the pandemic and the property would be "repurposed". The notice is set to expire today, and several vendors who've been in business since the swap meet’s 1991 inauguration are fundraising $30,000 for a lawyer to take their case.

“All they want to know is, why?” said Diana Ojendis, 34, daughter of Rosa Maria, a vendor at Los Amigos Mall. She said 35 tenants are demanding to meet with Roberta and negotiate a fair plan for all vendors involved.

The tenants' goal is to keep Los Amigos Mall open, but if the building is sold, tenants are calling for a compensation to relocate, she said.

According to Ojendis, 35 is the number of vendors on her contact list who have organized to oppose the eviction notice. More than 50 merchants operated business at Los Amigos Mall when it was open, but several of them left after being intimidated by the property owner, George Torres, she said.

“He likes to threaten them. A lot of people were afraid. I told my mom, ‘Give me everyone’s phone number and I’ll talk to them.’ Some decided to leave and get the deposit back,” Ojendis said.

She promptly connected the tenants with the Los Angeles Tenants Union, South Central Local, a grassroots organization that is helping vendors oversee their rights as commercial tenants.

“I reached out to a lot of people and they gave me a call back.” Ojendis said and added that LATU, SCL advised vendors to keep their merchandise inside their units.

Sur Central Times reached out to Los Amigos Mall manager, Adolfo Hernandez, who declined to speak on the situation. In her letter, Roberta appointed Hernandez as the contact person who tenants should schedule a time to meet with and obtain their belongings.

One vendor said he tried scheduling a time to meet with Hernandez, but gave up when Hernandez insisted on meeting at midnight.

“How are we going to come in the middle of the night like burglars?” said Jorge Sorto, 40, a vendor who’s been at Los Amigos Mall for 19 years. “If [George] wasn’t able to deal with the swap meet, he could have done things differently. We have nothing. We didn’t qualify for a small business loan, all the big businesses took them.”


For many vendors, Los Amigos Mall is more than a workplace; it's a symbol of the time and effort they invested to become business entrepreneurs.

“I came in single, and I’m leaving a grandfather,” said Efrain Contreras who's been a vendor at the swap meet 29 years.

He explained that he’s lived a lifetime at Los Amigos Mall, having been there through the 1992 Los Angeles Riots (also known as the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising), the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the 2008 recession, and now a global health pandemic. “I started when I wasn’t yet married, and now that they are kicking me out, I have grandchildren,” he said.

Mothers often brought their children to the swap meet where they worked six days a week, according to Blanca Leticia of “Cachanillas Kids.” She’s been a small business owner at Los Amigos Mall since 1991.

Ojendis recalls spending her childhood at the swap meet, helping her mother make sales while participating in dance competitions with the other children there. “It was fun, every parent took their kids there,” she said.

Los Amigos Mall, recognized for its vivid purple exterior, features an open seating area with tables where visitors can eat and enjoy live music during weekends.

Polo Rey is a musical duo that performed at Los Amigos Mall every Friday and Saturday for the past three years. Last Saturday, they relocated to the sidewalk outside Los Amigos Mall to support the vendors. The small business owners had asked the community to attend and purchase merchandise from them.

“We are here to support the cause of all our companions,” Polo Rey regularly announced, reminding everyone of why they'd gathered. “We are greeting everyone from here on 33[rd Street] and Maple [Avenue] where we are working on the sidewalk supporting all the tenants who were unjustly evicted. That’s why we are here asking for the support of all the South Central community.”

Saturday’s event featured a community march that called attention to the vendors’ situation. About 60 people participated, chanting and carrying messages against evictions in South Central and demands for a just negotiation for the vendors.


While tenants wait for answers from George and Roberta, the community says it speculates George is selling the building to USC for student housing.

“I’ve heard that for years USC has been wanting to buy the building but that they never reached an agreement,” said Jessenia Gutierrez, owner of Botanica Colibri. “Maybe the owner managed to sell it due to the pandemic.”

Jackie Gallardo, 22, attended the community march last Saturday, holding a sign that read, “You can’t buy South Central.” She said she aimed the message at USC and other buyers who acquire property in South Central, only to change the culture of the neighborhood.

“Every time someone buys something, they either transform it into something else that is completely different than what we’ve built here as a culture, as a community,” said Gallardo. “You can’t just come in and buy things that are not for sale: people’s jobs, people’s lives. South Central is not for sale.”

In 2017, USC launched a campus extension, which was a $17 million project that converted property in South Central to student housing, retail stores and academic space, reported a New York Times article.

“USC is not involved in any acquisition at this property,” said USC Senior Media Relations Specialist, Ron Mackovich, responding to claims that USC is buying the building at 307 E Jefferson Blvd. which houses Los Amigos Mall.

While she recovered from a surgery in the hospital, Gutierrez said Hernandez called her multiple times, urging her to collect her things. She’d been almost two weeks in the hospital.

Wiping tears from her eyes, she said she feels hopeless. As the single mother of a one-year-and-six-month-old infant, Gutierrez said she doesn’t know what she will do if she is evicted. “They kicked us out like dogs,” she said.

Selling merchandise at the swap meet is the sole source of income for vendors like Gutierrez, but Leticia said she thinks tenants have nothing to worry about.

“Who built this swap meet? Us, the vendors. He never paid for publicity,” she said, explaining that the swap meet’s esteemed reputation in the community is not the result of the owner’s actions, but rather a reflection of the vendors’ hard work. “But if you missed one day of rent, be assured that he’d charge you a 10 percent interest fee.”

Vendors have relied on each other and would throughout the years meet to formulate ways to bring customers to the swap meet, according to Leticia. She added that she believes in the power of the vendors and the community.

“People are disillusioned because they don’t realize the value of this case. Now is when they really have to take out their nails and fight because this case is secured,” Leticia said. “[George] has to face us.”

If you'd like to donate to the vendors' GoFundMe fundraiser, you can click here.