The Sultan of Swap

He's a hillbilly boor, a promotional genius, a political trickster, a lovable rogue, and a control freak. Preston Henn is also the owner of one of the biggest flea markets in the world.

Trundling past the produce and power-tool vendors on his way to a meeting with his team of tax attorneys, Henn says he thinks he's discovered something more precious, more American, than Ponce de León's mythical fountain of youth. While the Swap Shop may look tacky, may sound loud, may feel hot, Henn believes he's touched the very heart of pure, democratic commerce.

"Have I ever conducted a demographic study of Swap Shop patrons?" he squawks. "Sure! I look at the cars people drive here. And there's no rhyme or reason to it. It's rich people, poor people, marrieds, retirees.

"Most of the TV and radio stations have told me that I am the only person that don't give a shit what the demographics say. We appeal to everybody."

It's always hard to tell how much of what Henn says is theater or calculation -- where the country bumpkin cuts off and the latter-day P.T. Barnum begins. He claims to be on the verge of dumping his last two properties (flea markets in Tampa and Margate) to better focus on the Swap Shop, but he doesn't seem to be in a hurry to do so. Having declared speed lust a thing of the past, Henn confirms that in August he sneaked out to California to drive in a celebrity road race.

He claims to be in his twilight years.
"If I didn't enjoy what I do here, I would never leave Aspen, Colorado," he laments. "There I don't have to drive anywhere. The grocery store, everything is within three or four blocks of my house out there."

How does he pass the time at his Rocky Mountain mansion 1500 miles from the Swap Shop?

Skiing. Reading. And of course watching those 78 interconnected security cameras that appear on his computer screen from not-so-faraway Fort Lauderdale.

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