Crazy Like a Henn | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Crazy Like a Henn

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"Five-hundred-dollar fines for everything!" says another irate vendor of car stereo equipment. "Park in the wrong place, $500 fine. Open a little late, $500 fine. We even had to open the day [Hurricane] Rita hit. It didn't used to be this way."

In addition to the swelling fines, Henn has instituted new parking fees for vendors. Until recently, vendors were required to pay for parking only on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Now it's every day.

The vendors are convinced that Henn is trying to make up for the lost circus revenue by bleeding them dry. Henn dismisses the complaints as the grumbling of malcontents.

"To the vendors, every year is the worst year and business always sucks," he says. "The truth is that we've never had a 'worst year. '"

Henn denies that he's increased fine amounts or their frequency. "We give them fair warning, often giving them three, four chances before we write them up."

For his part, Reyes had had enough and was planning to leave the Swap Shop. He'd already removed the merchandise from his store, saying that Swap Shop management was known for confiscating vendor wares.

"Everybody's too scared to say something, but I don't care anymore."

He nodded toward a reed-thin woman with dark skin standing in a booth surrounded by luggage. "See that lady over there? She paid the $500 and she was crying the day it happened. She's all alone. Look at her now. No customers."

The same week that Henn stopped paying the Hannefords, construction began on the 100-plus-acre park — imaginatively named Central Regional Park by the county — that will abut his property. A spokesman for property appraiser Parrish denied that construction of the park would have any effect on the value of Henn's land. It's hard to imagine, however, that such an addition to the neighborhood wouldn't have a positive effect.

Former Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Tim Smith, for example, came under fire when investment properties he owned shot up in value after he approved a parks project in the same neighborhood. Critics attributed Smith's personal windfall to the addition of the green spaces.

Citing ethical obligations, no independent property appraiser would comment on the record as to the possible effect the park's construction would have on Henn's property. One such appraiser did say, however, that the addition of a park could increase the Swap Shop's value by as much as 30 percent.

For the short term, at least, it would seem that Henn is staying put. When Hurricane Wilma tore through the Swap Shop, doing more than a million dollars in damage, including wrecking almost all of the drive-in screens, Henn immediately began to rebuild.

Recently, in the northeastern corner of the Swap Shop, a tremendous pile of twisted metal frames, awnings, roofing tiles, and other storm detritus was being sorted by men who had stripped off their shirts in the unseasonable warmth.

In the labyrinth of stalls on the Swap Shop's west side, vendors patched roofs and rearranged merchandise around bent support poles.

Henn, meanwhile, assured New Times that he's often misunderstood by those who underestimate his stamina and smarts. "If I'm buying property or [in] any kind of business deal, people think that I can't think because I talk slow," he says.

"They think they can outsmart me, and I always end up throwing it back in their face."

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P.J. Tobia

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