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Not just a pretty façade

Pyramid Lake isn't the only place to find Lahontan cutthroat trout in northern Nevada.

Thousands of diehard fishermen flock to the shores of Pyramid each fishing season, but there's actually cutthroat trout to be found in Midtown Reno as well. Of a sort, that is.

The large mural of a Lahontan cutthroat trout on the building at 743 S. Virginia St. was completed last summer by renowned London-based artist Louis Masai. The mural is one of more than 60 murals adorning the walls of local businesses in the Midtown District — and they've become the focal point of guided tours that are providing increased exposure and business to Midtown retailers.

The Midtown Mural Tour was created by Renoites Geralda Miller and Eric Brooks. Miller, a longtime Reno journalist, and Brooks, a San Francisco Bay Area transplant, are co-owners and curators of Art Spot Reno, a company formed to promote art and local businesses throughout Reno.

While the local murals are not quite on the same scale as the incredible whaling murals painted by famous marine life artist Wyland, the murals still spiff up otherwise bland walls throughout the Midtown District. Murals include:

The smiling purple cat at Happy Happy Joy Joy by Joe C. Rock

A jazz musician with the Sierra Nevada in the background at El Adobe Café by David Tscheeker

Historical portraits on the backside of Junkee Clothing Exchange by Erik Burke and Joe C. Rock

A seascape on the wall at Vacation Motor Lodge on South Center Street

Regional business owners say the artwork brings a beautifying element to the district.

"The murals have beautified Midtown. They've brought people into our neighborhood and into my store. Instead of having tagged, dirty walls, we have colorful, beautiful paintings," Melanie Crane, owner of Never Ender Boutique and Gallery at 25 Saint Lawrence Ave., said to Art Spot Reno.

Joe Marino, owner, Blue Whale Coffee Company on Cheney Street, says tour days bring a host of benefits, including a boost in business from patrons that don't normally frequent the coffee house. Blue Whale is a central meeting spot for the mural tour before patrons head north or south to check out other local artwork and murals.

"It's pretty easy to know and tell when it's going on," he said of the Midtown Mural Tour. "It attracts people that didn't really know that I was here, and I have seen some return customers. It's been good.

"It basically creates exposure," he added. "If people are in this part of town, they know they have a spot to go. Especially for someone who lives south of town or in Sparks, and they don't make it down here all that much. If they are in the area and the chance comes up, they will swing by."

But even more than the bump in business, the Midtown Mural Tour — and similar art tours, and even wine walks — fosters a greater sense of community for all businesses throughout the Midtown area, Marino said.

"That is really the goal for most of the businesses in the Midtown area. A lot of local entrepreneurs, their business model is based on building a community, or that is a big part of it. (The tours) create that perception that this is a nice community spot to look at local art by local artists. That is the biggest draw."

Local artist Ron Rash, who dispenses ink at Lasting Dose Tattoo, created an indoor mural at Blue Whale Coffee Company, and Marino also features a rotating gallery of artwork from local artists on the walls of his shop.

"It's another way of creating the idea that Reno is an art town," Marino said. "It's good for business and for community building. Tours like this give people the idea and belief that they can walk around and get around (the Midtown area). It kind of slows people down to be exposed to their own community, be it business or art."

In addition to the Midtown Mural Tours, Art Spot Reno is partnering with Whitney Peak Hotel, Orchard House Foundation and the City of Reno to kick off the inaugural Reno Mural Expo in mid-October. The expo will have local and renowned national/international artists create new murals on blighted buildings throughout downtown Reno.

For more information, go to http://artspotreno.com/midtown-mural-tour/.