Drive-in days are here again

El Rancho offers a swap meet on the weekends and drive-in movies at night

Fruits and veggies from the Daniel Produce vendor at El Rancho Public Market.

Fruits and veggies from the Daniel Produce vendor at El Rancho Public Market.


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I’ve lived in the Reno area for more than 13 years, and yet, I’m ashamed to admit, it took me until last summer to see a movie at the El Rancho Drive-In. In fact, until that point, I’d never seen a drive-in movie. Always relegated in my mind to the 1950s, they just weren’t something that occurred to me as entertainment options.

Then my daughter was born. After weeks spent cooped up in the house, lucky to get out of my pajamas, my husband suggested a drive-in movie. It was as if the heavens had opened up.

A cozy car, my pajamas, a baby, a take-out pizza, and an actual first-run film with my husband? Genius!

“We actually market at maternity wards for that reason,” said one of El Rancho’s assistant managers, Ed Maldonado, when I recounted this story to him.

Simple pleasures

The first night we went, a large family pulled up behind us in a big pick-up truck. Kids spilled out in all directions—some to the snack bar, some to meet friends parked up front. The rest ate fried chicken with Mom and Dad in the truck bed. An older couple next to us parked lawn chairs in front of their car, and shared a big fuzzy blanket and a Thermos. Meanwhile, no one had to know that I was nursing my child or changing her diaper while I watched The Hangover.

The drive-in offers a rare, affordable evening’s entertainment. Pack a picnic and a blanket, bring a Frisbee to toss before the movie, wear your pajamas, and see a movie with your squeeze, or your whole family, for a fraction of standard theater prices. Plus, you won’t have to deal with excessive talkers or cell phone users (unless they’re with you). Adult tickets are just $4.25, kids 5-11 are just $1, and kids under 5 are free. Plus, every night is a double-feature.

The El Rancho Drive-In, now owned by the West Wind theater chain, still has all the nostalgia, without all the ’50s and ’60s-era junkiness. Instead of squawk-boxes, Dolby sound comes to you through your car stereo, and the huge 65-foot screens are brighter than average, making it easier to see from your car. (Fair warning: My car battery died that first night. Maybe start up your car now and then, to keep it charged.)

Another bonus is the food. While not exempt from 21st century movie theater prices—almost $4 for a box of candy?—at least you get great selection and service. You’ll find foil-wrapped, steamy Nathan’s hot dogs, soft pretzels, nachos, burgers, buckets of popcorn, and boxed and bulk candy. You can bring your own, but leave the barbecues and booze at home. Pets, too.

I love the car hops—servers who pick up snacks for you and bring them to your car.

Last weekend, we caught Hot Tub Time Machine while our daughter slept in her PJ’s on my lap. Only a handful of cars were in attendance, likely due to the chilly weather. “The weather’s what kills us,” said Maldonado, “but I do think business has picked up since the economy got bad.”

The drive-in season runs from late March to early November.

Juan Aguilar sells tools from his spot at El Rancho Public Market.


Cheap treasures

For over 40 years, El Rancho has been home to some of Reno and Sparks’ best bargains. I live about five minutes away and yet only last week made my first visit to “the swap meet,” the El Rancho Public Market. I felt pretty stupid about it, too, when I realized the staggering array of stuff I could have bought at ridiculously low prices.

On this gray, chilly Saturday morning, roughly 70 vendors were onsite, offering up everything you could want. Literally, everything. There were car stereos, steering wheel covers, bicycles, tricycles, scooters, hula hoops, gun holsters, strollers, tires, soccer jerseys, handbags, shoes, lingerie, jewelry, socks, hair accessories, stuffed animals, blankets, toys for all ages, board games, mops, brooms, cookware, grills, hand tools, power tools, cowboy hats, baseball hats, candles, piñatas, make-up, deodorant, lotions, soaps, batteries, toothpaste, garden hoses, rakes, DVDs, western wear, sunglasses, wigs, and a velvet “Last Supper” painting, not to mention an outstanding assortment of market produce. While seasonal items vary, there’s produce here every weekend of the year. How did I not know this? There are seasoned nuts; football-sized papayas; hard-to-find items like plantains, tomatillos and coconuts; and enormous fruits and veggies, including fat navel oranges and plump strawberries.

Denny Schricker has been peddling his car accessories—stereos, dash covers, seat covers, die-cast metal parts, and cleaning supplies—at the El Rancho every weekend for the last 21 years. “I made a pretty great living, too, up until the economy went bad,” said Schricker. “Last year was the worst year I’ve ever seen, but I guess it’s the same for everyone. We’re starting to come back now.”

The market’s open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekend, come rain or come shine. Schricker says it takes a heavy snowstorm to keep vendors away.

It normally takes Schricker about an hour to set up his tables and canopy and merchandise his wares, and about another hour to tear down in the afternoon, which the vendors all have to do once drive-in movie season starts. “At least in the winter, they let us keep our tables and canopies up.”

Trenette Castillo purchased spaces 4209 and 4110 about six months ago from a relative who had owned the spots for five years. A guaranteed spot only costs $150 for the year, and the daily fee is just $21, making it an affordable venue. Castillo sells handbags, baby blankets, curtains, jackets and jewelry.

“Our handbags aren’t the traditional brands,” she said. “They’re not quite knock-offs, but they’re like knock-offs. In a lot of places you can get them for about $60, but we sell them for $30.”

In fact, prices at the public market can be up to 50 percent less than average retail prices.

When they’re not at the market, Schricker and Castillo are, like most of the vendors here, buying merchandise from out-of-state or selling items on Craigslist and eBay. Most vendors have regular customers, who come nearly every week to check out their latest offerings.

According to Maldonado, Sunday’s the big market day. “The majority of our customers are Latino, and as a Latino, I know that Sunday is the big day for families to go out and do things together. On a good summer Sunday, we’ll get about 3,000 people here, and over 100 vendors.” And because there’s always live music here on Sundays, the entry fee goes up to 75 cents—it’s only 50 cents on Saturday.

Plus, there’s the food: churros, cotton candy, trucks selling authentic tacos out the back …

So with just a couple bucks in your pocket, you can spend a weekend at El Rancho.