CERES — The new owners of the Ceres Theatre & Flea Market are on a mission to restore it to a weekend rendezvous, and one aspect has been of particular interest to shoppers.
"In a day we get anywhere from five to 10 requests from the people who come shop who ask, 'When is the theater coming back? When is the theater coming back?' " said Diego Castillo, who co-owns the property with five family members. "So it looks like the community wants it back."
Watching the big screen from lawn chairs with the family or snuggling on a bench seat with your sweetheart might once again become a reality as soon as this summer.
The drive-in theater closed in its 60th year in 2008, the end of an era for drive-in theaters in the region. There had been others in Modesto, Turlock and Merced.
"The movie I saw here was when 'Spider-Man' came out," said Sadie Tellez, who was shopping at the market Sunday. "I was sad when I heard about it closing down."
After its closure, the lot, just west of Highway 99 at Whitmore Avenue, sat vacant for more than three years, during which time a fire destroyed the former concession stand and projector room.
Another concession area has been built, but Castillo said a separate, taller projector room would need to be erected on the north side of the 25-acre property.
Just walking into the flea market Sunday elicited nostalgia for people who grew up in the area, as they pointed out the big screen to younger generations.
"I use to come to the drive-in a lot as a teenager," said Modesto native Janie Ramirez. "It would be nice for them to open it again. We'd come in a truck and back up and sit in the back or pull out a lawn chair."
Ramirez's teenage granddaughter never had the opportunity to experience the outdoor theater but said, "I think it would be cool."
In addition to the theater, Castillo said he and his partners will expand the days of operation for the flea market, which now runs from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Come spring it also will be open Friday evenings, and Castillo said they are seeking city approval to open on Monday as well.
Change will help vendors
Operations manager Anna Garcia said the idea is to create a full-time business for the vendors so they don't have to pack up and move from site to site each day.
Close to 100 vendors were spread out on the property Sunday, but there is room for as many as 600, Garcia said.
Other ideas in the works to attract vendors and customers are beauty pageants, car shows and auctions, equipment auctions, health fairs and a rodeo, Castillo said.
Starting in April, a farmers market will coincide with the flea market.
"We want to get it back to what it used to be and add the elements of the farmers market and the rodeo and make it a full-function business where it is all family-oriented," Castillo said.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter.