Old becomes NEW again
June 28, 2016
Before Midtown was Midtown, it was considered the next best place to open a business for owners who couldn't afford Downtown rents.
Early business owners "saw it as the only viable district left," said Eric Madison, an entrepreneur and president of Roofdog LLC, plus a MidTown District board member and mentor with The CUBE @ Midtown (a business incubator). "It's on the main thoroughfare, so it became the de facto next place to expand and revitalize."
During the 1980s the area was THE hangout for students, thanks to a large bar on Del Mar Street that brought in nationally known rock n roll bands.
Tim Carter, who now owns Carter Bros Ace Hardware in Midtown, was one of those students.
"If you were a college student and feeling froggy, Del Mar Street was the place to go," Carter said in a phone interview.
The next couple decades were not so good to the blocks south of Downtown. Drunks and vagrants replaced college students and the district slid toward sleezy.
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"It was not a good neighborhood," Carter said.
A resurgence began in earnest around 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession.
In December 2008, Carter, in partnership with his brothers, opened Carter Bros Ace Hardware in an historic brick building they refurbished.
Six months before Carter Bros opened, Jessica Schneider opened Junkee Clothing Exchange. Hillary Schieve, now mayor of Reno, was already operating Plato's Closet in the area, and Chris Thompson had opened Sushi Pier II, he said.
They took a chance on both the neighborhood and the economy.
Carter believed that during hard times "cities contracted, then would rebuild and spiral out when things got better," he said.
And the hardware store filled a need.
"The area was severely under served. Big boxes went north and south. Except for the Ace hardware store (on Greenbrae in Sparks), we didn't have a hardware store inside the McCarran loop."
The influx of new businesses was the beginning of the MidTown District, a name that Carter attributes to Thompson. Along with other business owners, they formed the MidTown Business Association, which evolved into the MidTown District Reno.
"We were really unorganized," Carter said of the early days.
What they lacked in organization, they made up for in determination.
"I can't think of a more diverse group all pulling in the same direction," Carter said of the Midtown business owners. "There's a lot going on. …
"They're passionate about what they do and they're busting their butts to make it work. That's great."
And it is working.
Today, Midtown is being reborn, recreated and refurbished into an eclectic, trendy place where young adults and the young at heart can again gather to shop, dine and hang out.
It's an eclectic mix of old and new. Recycled Records, for instance, has been in business for 30 years. Others, such as 2 Chicks, Dragonfly, Sweet & Spice, have opened in the last year or two. More businesses are on the way.
Businesses are opening in both historic buildings and new developments such as Sticks and 1401 Midtown.
"It's the cool place for 20- to 30-year olds. There are a lot of bars and great night life," Carter said. "Or so they tell me."
The official Midtown District consists of the area between Liberty Street to the north, Holcomb Avenue (east), Plumb Lane (south) and Plumas Street (west).
"The (Midtown) community is changing, evolving," Madison, said. "There's a tug of war, what we want and don't want it to evolve into."
The goal, with the MidTown Reno District board directing the way ahead, is to keep it eclectic and unique, Madison said, with cool restaurants and eclectic stores.
As more businesses make their way to Midtown — including five new restaurants in the planning stages — the district also will evolve economically.
"We don't want to lose our feel," Ky Good, co-founder and director academic and community relations of The CUBE, said. "We want it to make us more."
"Midtown has an independent 'don't tell me what to do' attitude," Madison added.
Good and Madison talked about the changes happening in Midtown during an interview at The CUBE.
Those changes are getting noticed and drawing investors from throughout the West.
"The price of real estate has gone up tremendously," Good said. "Just having the word 'Midtown' in the geographical description (of a property for sale or lease) jacks up the price."
A recent survey indicated that people in Sacramento and the Bay Area have favorable impressions of all the districts in the heart of Reno — Downtown, Midtown, Arch, Old Brewery, Liberty, University, Riverwalk and Wells Avenue.
"The people who have negative impressions that we have to change are people from Arrowcreek — locals — Reno residents who haven't been in Midtown in years and think its still that way," Carter said, referring to the down-and-out location of the past.
At the same time the business district of Midtown is seeing revival, the surrounding homes and apartments are also undergoing a transformation into modern urban-style residences.
Together, Midtown is becoming a true urban environment.
Young professionals — that age group — don't want to live in the suburbs," Carter said. "They want small yards; zero lawns. They want to walk to work, walk to entertainment, walk to grocery stores … walk to the hardware store."
There's more to be done. The district may have a hardware store, but it doesn't have a grocery store. Pockets of blight remain.
After decades of widening South Virginia Street to create more traffic lanes, sidewalks in Midtown tend to be narrow. RTC has plans to remedy that in the next few years to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
"It'll change Midtown dramatically," Madison said.