Capital Ford in Carson City is one of several auto dealers in the state’s capital city.
Photo: Ronni Hannaman
EDITOR’S NOTE This story is adapted from the 2021-2022 edition of the Northern Nevada Guide, a 116-page specialty magazine published in late September by the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. Go here to read the digital edition
Anyone who lives in the Eastern Sierra or on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe knows how convenient it is to have Reno and Carson City on the other side of the mountain.
It’s where everyone goes to get fast food, fill up the tank on cheap gas and stock up on supplies at big box retail stores like Costco and Target.
“Carson City is already a regional hub; people come as far away as Bridgeport and South Lake Tahoe to shop here, and we will continue to grow,” says Carson City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ronni Hannaman. “It all started around the year 2000 when we reached the 50,000-mark in our population.”
However, there is so much more to these cities retail-wise than just the name-brand items.
Small- and medium-sized businesses add character to Carson City, while new retail and mixed-use centers such as the Reno Public Market and Keystone Commons in Reno, and the sprawling Oddie District in Sparks, seek to reinvent the retail experience by integrating art, entertainment and mixed-commercial elements.
And while COVID-19 may have changed shopping habits as more people go online to buy their essentials, there’s still a place for brick-and-mortar businesses in Northern Nevada.
“The big box stores that are here are here, but online became a convenient way to shop. COVID forced us to look at other methods,” Hannaman says. “All major stores are online and delivery, but even brick and mortar stores that appear to have gone out of business — like Pier 1 Imports and Stein Mart — still have a presence online.”
As far as how consumers are reacting to the changing landscape of the pandemic, Hannaman is noticing that retail stores are still beneficial as people like to go see the product in person, touch it, pick it up and hold it before then maybe going home and buying it online.
Even in a time when Amazon Prime is all the rage, Hannaman believes a big part of the brick-and-mortar style business in the retail sector will continue to exist.
Meanwhile, Hannaman sees small and medium businesses like gift shops and car dealerships in Carson City still doing well as people search for a unique one-of-a-kind item that can only be found in Nevada’s capital city.
“We have tourism here and they like to find unusual items. Furniture stores are doing well because new homes are being built and people are shopping locally to furnish them. People are nesting,” she says. “Even at Costco they have displays everywhere of things that you can sit on, touch, try out. I think that a big portion (of the retail sector) is in auto sales and that in-person dealerships will stick around … being online used to be the Sears catalog of the past.”
The new Sprouts Farmers Market opened in May 2021 within the new renovated Reno Public Market development at the intersection of Plumb Lane and South Virginia Street. Photo: Rob SaboPeople coming in from Tahoe or Mammoth make a day out of shopping in Carson, Hannaman says, and probably end up dining in the area, walking downtown or going to a casino.
“People come in on fumes and they fill up and get their groceries,” she adds.
Over in Reno-Sparks, the population growth is boosting the retail sector as more people relocate to the region from the Bay Area and other parts of the United States.
“More people need more things,” says Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce CEO Ann Silver when asked how the influx of people moving here is boosting the local economy. “Consumerism isn’t going away anytime soon. Right now, because of COVID, people are buying things online, and new shops are popping up to meet the demand due to the growth.”
Hair salons, nail salons, clothing stores and restaurants have remained steady, but Silver would still like to see other types of businesses rise to the forefront of the Reno/Sparks retail shopping experience.
“We have an abundance in some items and a lack in others. We only have two bookstores so I would like to see more of those,” Silver adds.
Small businesses have been brave in pushing through and vying to stay alive during the pandemic, and while a portion of those dollars may be going to Amazon, Silver is seeing people still shopping local for certain services.
“The service industry has been booming,” she says. “Nair salons, hair salons, restaurants, coffee shops, masseuses, and cultural places that sell artwork, jewelry and pottery … it’s wonderful to see the diversity in the small shop experience.”
Silver is aware that Lowe’s and other home improvement places have been booming during the pandemic, but she encourages consumers not to forget that areas such as Midtown and South Reno are growing, too.
Farmers markets are also getting more popular as people opt to buy fresh, local produce and goods in safe, open-air spaces directly from the producer.
Even outside of retail, the Chamber is noticing other types of businesses spring up or grow to meet the new post-COVID era.
“Realtors, decorators, doctors, pediatricians, homes services, psychologists and marriage counselors are starting to come to the forefront,” Silver notes. “As people buy houses, new businesses are cropping up to meet demand. Everything our population needs, we’re bringing that in. I don’t know about other people, but I get excited about buying a new camera, socks or getting a haircut right here in the area.
“I’m so obviously pro-local consumerism. I like to give back to the community by way of goods and services they offer. Kids are getting back to school, people are buying houses, and I just want to see all of our businesses succeed and everyone to buy local.”