Filed Under Businesses

Circus Potato Chip Company

A family snack business founded on South Virginia Street in 1936

South Virginia Street was the site of many manufacturing operations in the mid-20th century, but the aromas from this one may have fueled the most snack attacks. It was the Circus Potato Chip Factory, constructed in 1936 as the De Somma Potato Chip Co.

The company was founded by a native of Napoli, Italy named James De Somma and his wife, Nellie. The couple lived in the small house next door with their daughter, Filomena. Their signature Circus Potato Chips were made daily and sold fresh in area grocery stories with a “giant bag” going for 19 cents in 1939. They were also served at many local restaurants, and the company’s popcorn was enjoyed everywhere from bars to baseball games.

The couple divorced in 1945 and sold the company, which continued operation under the name of the Circus Potato Chip Co. New owners Herman and Truman Christ in turn sold the company to the Frito Company of Dallas, Texas in 1959. Production of Circus Potato Chips was discontinued, and the Christs became local representatives for the Frito Company and its line of Crispie potato chips.

In the years to follow, occupants of the building included Thrif-Tee Seat Covers and, beginning in 1979, Ceccarelli’s Formal Wear. August Ceccarelli had been working in the garment business in Reno since 1961 and had opened his first tailor shop at 322 Vine Street in 1968. He expanded into tuxedo rental with a move to 677 S. Virginia Street, and with his final relocation to this site, added dry cleaning and sales of a full line of formal wear including wedding dresses. The Ceccarelli family sold the building in 2004 but its longstanding garment tradition continues today as Alterations Connection.

Images

John Wayne passes by Circus Potato Chips
John Wayne passes by Circus Potato Chips John Wayne (riding in front, right) passes by Circus Potato Chip building in 1949 while participating in the Reno Rodeo parade. Wayne was the first recipient of the Silver Spurs Award given annually by the Reno Chamber of Commerce to the year's top western actor. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1949
De Somma Potato Chip Co. ad
De Somma Potato Chip Co. ad A newspaper advertisement from 1940 urges customers to look out for the De Somma company's signature Circus Potato Chips. The building's address was changed from 1234 to 1320 in the late 1940s. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: July 13, 1940
The footprint of the factory in 1949
The footprint of the factory in 1949 The footprint of the potato chip factory can be seen on a 1949 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Reno. These maps are color coded to indicate the building material: pink denotes brick while yellow means wood frame. The name of Viola Street, to the north, was later changed to Arroyo Street, which extended west from Virginia Street. Source: U.S. Library of Congress Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Date: 1949
August Ceccarelli prepares to close after 42 years
August Ceccarelli prepares to close after 42 years A newspaper article profiled August Ceccarelli upon his retirement in 2004, as he closed the doors of Ceccarelli's Formal Wear and sold the business and building to Alterations Connection. Source: Reno Gazette-Journal Creator: Nicholas Wright Date: July 2, 2004
Alterations Connection
Alterations Connection Alterations Connection has occupied the historic 1936 building since 2004. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2014

Location

1320 South Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Circus Potato Chip Company,” Reno Historical, accessed June 17, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/231.