Owner, Kobey’s Swap Meet
Bishop’s School, La Jolla. Two years at Arizona State
Three children, Kara, Kimberly and Cy; seven grandchildren
Charlotte Kobey Keeps Monte Kobey’s Legacy Alive, Both at the Office and In Her Philanthropic Endeavors
Charlotte Kobey knows that one of the key factors in the success of Kobey’s Swap Meet, although no longer present in one sense, still manages to pervade the company’s office near the San Diego Sports Arena.
That factor is her husband, Monte, who died in 1989.
Kobey credits him with getting the business rolling back in 1976, in the parking lot of the Midway Drive-In. Now, although she and daughter Kimberly Kobey Pretto run the business, the memory of Monte still guides the decision making.
Kobey, 63, works about 10 hours a week as a consultant for the company she owns. But when Monte was alive, Kobey was content to be the stay-at-home mom.
Born Charlotte Funk in Phoenix, Kobey grew up in a family that at the time ran all the dog tracks in Arizona. They expanded into swap meets in the 1950s when an uncle, visiting California, saw that other dog tracks used their land for flea markets during the off-season.
The result was Park & Swap, which went on to become the largest swap meet in Arizona , comparable in size to Kobey’s today.
At the time, Charlotte was attending Arizona State College. It was there she met Monte in 1956; they married in 1957.
Kobey stayed at home to raise the children while also helping out her husband as he went from one venture to the next , some more successful than others.
“He went to work for radio stations, selling advertising, and then for a television station,” she said. “We both got our real estate licenses. Then he got his broker’s (license), and I got my broker’s, and we sold real estate for a few years. We went through the normal transitions owning a lot of different businesses, and not always doing well in each one.”
Eventually, Monte went to work for the Funk family, where he learned the swap meet business. His experience in advertising and marketing helped him in those years, as did his gregarious nature, she said.
“He had a tremendous, outgoing personality. He loved people; he loved talking to people. And that’s what you need to do when you’re in this business,” Kobey said.
Still, in 1976, he decided to strike out on his own. He found an opportunity in San Diego, at the Midway Drive-In, she said.
To be fair to his in-laws, Monte presented the opportunity to the Funk family first. They declined the offer, since they were busy enough in Arizona, Kobey said.
So Monte came to California, with the Funks’ blessing. While he was setting up the swap meet, he had to hold down two day jobs, she said.
“We had two girls just starting college, and even though they were working, they needed financial support. We had to keep the family going while we were starting the business here,” Kobey said.
When the drive-in was turned into a shopping center in 1980, Monte had to move and found a new site at the San Diego Sports Arena. With the increased space available, the number of vendors doubled almost overnight, from 200 to 400, she said.
“And from then, it just went crazy,” Kobey said.
Still, Monte had to spend many more years of hard work before they reached the point where the couple was financially secure. By the mid-1980s, they were able to do things they’d always wanted to do, like travel, she said.
Then, tragedy struck. In 1987, Monte learned he had developed AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion during surgery three years earlier, Kobey said.
“It stopped his life. He lived on for two more years, but they weren’t productive for him,” she said. “He couldn’t really be involved in the business. He’d come into the office, but he wasn’t with it anymore.”
It was at this time that Charlotte and Kim took over. It was an intimidating time, Kobey said.
“It was sad not to see him there,” she said. “At first, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I was happy being at home. I wasn’t really excited about having to go to the office every day.”
It was also difficult to pass Monte’s office and not see him there. That’s why Kobey was relieved when the company moved to its present location, she said.
Eventually, her two daughters and son-in-law were able to get a handle on the business. That allowed Kobey to go back into “semi-retirement,” she said.
Currently, she is involved in “advising and advertising.” She also serves as the financial backer for some of the company’s more ambitious projects , such as swap meets elsewhere, and Kobey’s Web site, (www.k-online.com).
Pretto and other family members also help. But it was Monte who made the business work , and still is, she said.
“Even after he died, he was still the center. (When) everyone thought of Kobey’s Swap Meet, they thought of Monte.”
Kobey’s late husband directs her philanthropic activities as well. She keeps his name alive through the AIDS foundation her family runs.
This was a charity Kobey started while her husband was still alive. She sponsored an AIDS benefit dinner for him, and all his friends and business associates came from Arizona and elsewhere to see him.
That event raised more than $150,000, which has gone toward a scholarship to UCSD for AIDS research. Still more money has gone to assist children with AIDS, she said.
Also, each November, the Kobey family sponsors a Thanksgiving Day dinner in memory of Monte. The event , held at her synagogue, Temple Beth Israel , serves 200 to 300 poor, homeless and elderly people in San Diego.
In the early years of the event, Kobey would also prepare the food herself.
“We’d spend three days making the stuffing, fixing the turkeys, and vegetables and all that. And then it got to be too big of a project,” she said.
One of the congregation’s other members who ran a catering business took over that job. Still, Kobey, along with her children and grandchildren, help serve the meals.
For the last six years, Charlotte has also sponsored Romanian orphans, providing financial support and clothing. She is involved in a local charity that works with abused and neglected children in San Diego.
“I’m mostly interested in things to do with children, because I feel so fortunate that my grandchildren have been able to benefit from our business financially by being able to go to good schools, and have opportunities that a lot of children don’t normally have. So I want to give back to other children that aren’t as fortunate,” she said.
When not working or involved in charitable efforts, she likes to visit with her family and baby-sit her grandchildren. She skis every winter and goes boating every summer.
Kobey is grateful for the opportunities that Kobey’s Swap Meet has given her.
“We had to fight and struggle the whole way and push ourselves to try new things in order to compete with all the discount centers. But we’ve been fortunate to have a great location and for things to have worked out the way they have,” she said. “Because of our success we’ve been able to give back to the community in many ways.”