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Ceres Flea Market closing down
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The Ceres Flea Market, a decades-old tradition in Ceres, is closing due to economic conditions.

Lourdes Perez, a representative of the failing operation, said Friday that "economic reasons" are the cause for the closure of the Sunday-only operation at the grounds of the Ceres Drive-In.

She said the last day for the Ceres Flea Market - which started in 1947 - will be this Sunday. The drive-in will remain in operation.

Perez noted that the Ceres Flea Market has sustained losses to its main competitor - El Rematito flea market on Crows Landing Road.

The Ceres Flea Market operation began sustaining declines after the outdoor venue began suffering public safety problems in 2004, according to Perez. The facility, frequented by mostly Hispanic crowds, began having gang and crime issues and Ceres Police Department responded with an aggressive crackdown. Perez said the pat-down searches and traffic stops spread fear and customers stopped coming.

"When all the police came out our customer traffic dropped from 10,000 to 2,000 per Sunday," said Perez. "There were rumors that the police were the INS (Border Patrol). We had 500 vendors and that went down to 200 vendors. The shoppers left so the vendors left as well."

Many left for the El Rematito flea market on Crows Landing Road, which operates Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, said Perez.

Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk said he's skeptical that "requiring a safe and family environment at the flea market led to its demise."

"Activity dropped off after the city-imposed appropriate security standards and eliminated vendor problems, such as the sales of pirated CDs and DVDs," said deWerk.

The chief also said: "While I did not run the place, I saw a lot of activity out there in these last few years."

There's also some indication that foreclosures of homes in Stanislaus County area have decreased the client base that frequented the Ceres Flea Market. Stanislaus County has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.

Perez said that Carmel resident Jean Mouton, the owner of the drive-in since 1984, is working with someone who may be interested in leasing the facility and running it as a flea market.