Wine Walk on the Riverwalk kicked off with 10 downtown merchants in 2002, and the Reno Riverwalk Merchants Association now counts 23 participants for the promotion the third Saturday of each month.
But success has spoiled the event for some merchants, who were unable to accommodate the surging crowds in small shops and dropped out.
On an average Saturday afternoon, the wine walk brings 650 walkers who pay $10 for an empty wine glass and a map of downtown, says Meredith Tanzer, spokesperson for the event and owner of LaBussola.
"The dollars translate well for retailers who sell gift items," she says. "For restaurants it translates into reservations."
Says Ernest Gardner, co-owner of EJ's Jazz Cafe, "A lot of customers finish their wine here and don't even continue on; they just stop for dinner."
Merchants shell out between $200 and $400 for the wine, and Tanzer estimates the event draws 60 percent locals and 40 percent visitors.
The walkers are 80 percent college students, says Consuelo Beach, who pours for Dreamers Coffee House.
"At UNR, before a big game, the sororities and fraternities agree to take the free shuttle downtown, get ripped and go to the game," says Beach.
Despite the chaos, the walk provides good exposure for the coffee shop to college students.
Among those stores that have dropped out are Dharma Books and Parasols on the Riverwalk.
"It got to where there were so many young college students we didn't know whether they'd fall down the steps or what," says Lily Laforce, co-owner of Parasols on the Riverwalk. "We were one of the first to join, and just dropped off a couple months ago. We hated to stop, because it was a good thought."
To cork the college crowd rowdiness, the merchants association ruled that no location can pour more than one ounce of wine. If that doesn't work, merchants can confiscate the drinker's wine walk map.
Other problems are minimal.
Tanzer credits video surveillance and a visible downtown police presence for preventing shoplifting. Merchants say there's little spillage of wine on merchandise.
But does the wine walk boost business?
"When we have a very, very busy wine walk, there's no time to shop," says Alan Becker, manager at Cavanaugh's, a furniture store. "But they may see something they want and come back another time. A lot visitors come to town just for the event."