Wells Avenue: Reno's 'Melting Pot'

Sep 25, 2018

Reno residents were immersed in community celebrations honoring Hispanic Heritage Month over the weekend. One event highlighted a corridor of the city that's becoming known as a cultural melting pot. KUNR’s Stephanie Serrano reports.

A Mexican band playing a type of music called norteña performed on stage as part of the Fiesta on Wells block party. Each year, the event offers food, performances and family activities along Wells Avenue, east of Midtown Reno. It's been a part of the community for more than 10 years, and in 2016, AnnaMaria Cavallone took the lead in organizing it.

"La Fiesta Wells, son mucha cosas, es activar la economía, celebra el mes de la herencia hispana, es un servicio a la comunidad, es entertainment”, dice Cavallone

(The fiesta is many things. It activates the economy, celebrates Hispanic heritage. It's entertainment; it’s a community service,” said Cavallone.)

This year, Cavallone says vendors and community organizations called her to reserve booths in advance when in years past, she was questioning who would want to participate.

That enthusiasm highlights the growing interest in Wells Avenue, which is home to a variety of businesses including tattoo parlors, Mexican restaurants, quinceañera boutiques and coffee shops.

John Becker is a barista at Magpie Coffee Roasters. As a former resident and current employee on Wells, he shares his perspective on how the area has transformed:

"I lived on Wells [Avenue] six, seven years ago for about three to four years," he recalls, "and that's when Wells was bad; it’s definitely nice now. I go through my old neighborhood, and I'm like, ‘Wow, there used to be at least three crack houses on my street alone,' and now they're all very nice, like, all the streets are redone. It used to be bad, but it’s all good now.”

While Becker has witnessed the transformation over a relatively short period of time, Reno native Glen Gonfiantini has seen significant changes over many decades.

“I was just making a comment [that] the building to our right here was a Porsche repair shop called the Sports House, and that moved out many, many, years ago, and since that time, it's evolved into a multicultural [space]. Now we've got all the Hispanic businesses and other cultures in Wells, and I think it’s fabulous; it’s great,” Gonfiantini says.

Gonfiantini is standing next to what is now called Plaza Maya where a youth mariachi band is playing. The space includes a cafe and bar, a gallery and a Mexican restaurant.

"Plaza Maya is a plaza, and it stands for the people we wanted to create a space for people to gather and communicate and have somewhere different to be, somewhere authentically Hispanic," Miguel Morales says.

Morales’ family owns the plaza. He’s also VP of the Wells Merchant Association. Even though the area is known as a largely Hispanic neighborhood, Morales points just down the street to a nearby Irish pub and Italian eatery.

“I believe we've grown as a community with different aspects and we've just grown to be this large community of mixed cultures,” Morales says.

With the attention surrounding the evolution of Wells Avenue, Morales says the next step is to convey that this is a growing melting pot, inclusive of all cultures.