Transforming An Industrial Road Into An Artists' Haven

Jul 19, 2018

Dickerson Road is a one-mile, dead end street in an industrial area of Reno. It has a gritty history, including crime, motorcycle clubs and even a hippie commune at one point. Now, it’s experiencing a revitalization and becoming a haven for artists.

A train rolls behind once-gray warehouses that are now adorned with colorful murals and bright fronts. They house hip boutiques selling everything from succulents to bikinis. Inside the vibrant teal storefront of Wedge Ceramics, about a dozen artists mold clay, unfazed by the rumbling. Owner Sam Stremmel has been on the street for seven years.

Some of the warehouse spaces on the street have experienced a facelift with vibrant paint.
Credit Holly Hutchings

"I run into people sometimes and [I'm] like, ‘We're down on Dickerson,’ and they're like, ‘Oh, isn't that like a bad area of town?’" Stremmel said. 

The road holds memories of Old Reno that gave way to a stigma of crime. Stremmel’s view from her doorstep has changed in her time here.

“We saw really weird things, like 6 am visitors to people in warehouses across the street," she said.  "The homeless walk down the street to stay at Oxbow Park and walk back into town during the day, and those aren't as sketchy as the drug deals that were going on. Even when we moved in, I think it was better than it had been," Stremmel said. 

Stremmel says the atmosphere that once dominated Dickerson could be unwelcoming. Businesses on the street have since been working to make it a place where people to want to come and linger.

“I opened the indoor plant store across the street and that's just one more location for people to go check out on a Saturday or Sunday after they have brunch at Oxbow Cafe," Stremmel said. "It is more walkable now that the little spaces are filling in, and we get calls every day at the ceramic studio wondering if we have space for rent or we know of a warehouse that's for sale. You know, people want to be down here and I'm hoping we can get more of that down here.”

Where an auto shop once stood is now a restaurant.
Credit Holly Hutchings

Along with the cute storefronts, there is also a mix of residences, studios, a nature sanctuary and a Dickerson staple that has endured: auto shops. At one of them, CO Auto, a mechanic presses a button and a silver SUV lifts high into the air. He uses his power drill to unbolt the tires. Another employee maneuvers through multiple wrenches with his head buried under the hood of a red sedan. CO Auto’s garage is pretty typical. But when customers drop off their vehicle, they step into a more unexpected space: an art gallery.

“Everything from ceramics to metal forging to paintings to jewelry making,” said Vinnie Lucido, one of the owners. “The idea initially was to bring in local artists to give them exposure. We don't take any commission on any art sales we make. We just wanted to have cool art and we wanted to support our local artists, so it seemed really sensible to bring in local artwork and have it rotate out and bring in a new vibe,” Lucido said. 

CO Auto pulls much of their collection from the nearby creative community and showcases up to 20 artists at a time.

The once gravel country road is getting busier with more residential development and visitors. Lucido knows that the extra traffic is good for business; however, he appreciates how it’s still relatively unknown.

“I like how it's kind of still a secret little street," Lucido said. "Most people aren't even aware of Oxbow Nature Park, and the nature park is surreal. It's beautiful, probably one of the most beautiful places in downtown Reno, and people don't utilize it. It's just nice to be able to go down there and relax and spend some time in the park and hang out by the river, and it's also unaccompanied by many people," Lucido said. 

Another store owner is Ken Blasier of Crafty’s Auto, who’s worked on the street for forty years. He says people on the road are taking more care and that it’s cleaner. He likes the way things are evolving, but with it comes some growing pains.

Ken Blasier, owner of Crafty's, pauses from a car repair in a shop he has owned for decades on Dickerson.
Credit Holly Hutchings

“There's not room for all the people and the people that work here," Blasier said. "They need to stop building apartments and condos because they're continuing to build them over here, and it's just, there's too many people. It's going to be a lot of inconvenience for people trying to get up to work on time if they keep building like that. People won't be able to get out of their buildings and parking lots because it's so busy.” 

Blasier still says the tight family-like community makes up for any drawbacks. He’s been here since his first job after high school and has no plans to move anytime soon.

In conjunction with Artown, art spaces and merchants will open their doors as part of Discover Dickerson this Saturday. The event, in its fifth year, invites visitors to come explore the neighborhood through food, performance art, home brew, yoga and more. As a note of disclosure, KUNR is a media sponsor of Artown.