Interview: What's In, What's Out For Downtown Reno

Jan 8, 2016

The historic U.S. Post Office downtown is getting a facelift and new life as a retail space. Several smaller shops have already opened in the basement, including a barber shop, artisan chocolatier and florist. A national retailer is expected to occupy the first level.
Credit Mike Higdon

We've seen a flood of business news this week with Reno Provisions shutting its doors and the announcement of a major retailer coming to the heart of Reno. Our reporter Julia Ritchey caught up with the Reno-Gazette Journal's Mike Higdon to get the inside scoop on downtown development in 2016.

Higdon says the closing of Reno Provisions, following a highly publicized E. coli outbreak, is a major blow to the foodie movement.

“That was a big deal because Reno Provisions kind of stood for the larger foodie movement happening in Reno – or maybe I should say the small food movement – with people trying to appreciate fresh food, locally sourced or regionally sourced ranchers and that kind of thing,” he says.   

The retail space was led by chef and restaurateur Mark Este, who may now take a less prominent role in his remaining properties.

“Mark Este is kind of like Reno’s only celebrity chef,” says Higdon. “He’s selling off 50 percent shares in Campo, Provisions and Burger Me, and he’s going to take a backseat on those and not be a business leader. We’re not really sure what he’s going to do.”

Just a few blocks away, however, there’s lots of activity happening in the old U.S. Post Office. Higdon says he visited the space recently to write about a slew of small businesses opening in the basement level.

“There’s a lot of really cool startups,” he says. “There’s a coffee shop, a barber shop, California Jeans is opening soon; there’s a chocolate store; there’s a florist; there’s an engineering company [and] there’s an art gallery.”

But what the basement will really need to stay viable, he says, is a bigger anchor tenant on the first floor, which was confirmed this week. The retailer has not been officially named yet, but Higdon says it’s a national brand that should be able to pull in plenty of foot traffic.

Add to that a few new breweries on 4th Street and downtown is slowly breathing back to life. According to Higdon, the challenges to filling more of downtown’s vacant properties is a mix of blight and unaffordable rents.

“There’s a lot of issues with buildings that are just not up to code … and then you have the issue of a lot of landlords are charging $1.50 to $2 a square foot, which doesn’t sound like a lot … but when you have 12,000 square feet that’s a rent of about $25,000 a month.”

He says more infill development will be necessary between the river and Circus Circus casino for real revitalization to occur.  

“There’s tons of vacant spaces and a lot of room for it, it’s just a matter of landlords being willing to maybe lower prices to get those people in there and help improve those building so we can bring downtown back to life,” he says.

[For more of Higdon's coverage of downtown, go here.]