CERES -- The flea market at the drive-in on East Whitmore Avenue is back in business under new management, which hopes to continue the tradition of open-air bargains.
The flea market was last open in November. The property owners then put the 14-acre site up for sale and new uses were sought.
But the owners changed their minds and leased the site to Dennis and Vicki Mineni, who have owned and operated flea markets in Merced and Atwater for nine years.
"So many vendors at both of my other flea markets wanted me to reopen the flea market in Ceres," Dennis Mineni said. "They loved it here. This market had been open for years, and it would draw huge crowds."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
The Minenis spent the past few months working to lease the site and reopen the market. It opened Saturday but will have a grand reopening today.
Mineni said the property is no longer for sale. The owners, however, have no plans to reopen the Ceres Drive-In, he said.
"We've been inundated with people asking us to reopen the drive-in," Mineni said. "I have no experience running a drive-in."
Yolanda Soto, 30, drove from her home in Riverbank on Saturday to find sandals for her 4-year-old daughter, Jacqueline. After buying the sandals, they strolled through the market checking out the vendors.
"I think it's really nice here," Soto said in Spanish. "But there should be more stuff out here tomorrow."
About 60 vendors showed up Saturday with a variety of goods including luggage, vintage clothing, shoes and accessories for car interiors.
Mineni said word was spreading about the reopening, and he expected about 150 vendors today.
Mineni has brought in two food vendors: a taco truck with a shaded patio and a Mexican restaurant.
He hopes to attract shoppers with about 10 acres of paved parking. Previously, parking was in a dirt lot.
"There will never be any dust or mud you'll have to deal with," he said.
The new parking made a lot of sense to vendor Ray Delworth, who sells video game console accessories, children's books and dollar-store goods. He said he hopes the market's new features will attract more shoppers and vendors.
"We're glad the flea market is open again," said Delworth, 60, of Modesto. "It's a lot cleaner here and the staff is a lot more vendor-friendly."
Just as they do at the flea markets in Merced and Atwater, shoppers can use Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to buy produce at the Ceres flea market.
The cards are the electronic version of food stamps.
Mineni said he has U.S. Department of Agriculture approval to sell produce, along with state and federal approval to accept the EBT cards.
He said customers can go to the market's front office, swipe their EBT cards and receive $1 wooden tokens. Customers use the tokens to buy produce.
At the end of the day, Mineni will give the produce sellers money for the tokens. He said he doesn't gain any profit from the exchange.
"It's just a good way for the customers to buy good produce at a price that's less than some of the major stores," Mineni said.
Jose Jaramillo, 59, of Stockton has sold produce at the Ceres flea market for eight years. He said he hopes families take advantage of the bargains, such as $1 for a pineapple or 50 cents for a mango.
"It's $1 or $2 cheaper than in the store," he said.
Finding fair prices is what brings Carol Caceres, 53, of Modesto to flea markets. She said she was happy the Ceres market had reopened, because it might save her a trip to Bay Area flea markets.
"We're always looking for a bargain," Caceres said. "We're always looking for unique things that you can't find anywhere else."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.