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Rebranding perceptions leads to retail success

Rob Sabo
rsabo@nnbw.biz

Scott Emond knows that opening a brewery on East Fourth Street in Reno is a tough sell, but he’s hoping some rebranding of the neighborhood will help.

Under the Rose Brewing Company, located in a dilapidated old auto-painting facility at 555 E. Fourth St., plans to open August 17 along with neighboring Bodega Lounge (formerly The Underground). Emond and Bodega Lounge General Manager John Tamayo say a crucial element in their success is changing the community’s perception of East Fourth Street.

To that end, they’ve created Positively Fourth Street, a group of merchants between Elko Avenue and Valley Road whose goal is to enhance brand identity of old Highway 40, an area more closely associated with run-down motels, prostitution and crime than a retail hotspot.

Positively Fourth Street follows on the heels of business and property ownership groups such as the Midtown District, Reno Riverwalk District and California Avenue Merchant’s Association. Their goals: Create unique neighborhood shopping experiences and establish a brand identity with which they can market their neighborhoods to Greater Reno-Sparks consumers.

The Midtown District, most notably, successfully transformed the perception of the stretch of Virginia Street from California Avenue to Mt. Rose Street from that of a tired part of town into a thriving retail hub. Businesses enjoying the area’s retail renaissance include Midtown Eats, Sup, Junkee Clothing Exchange, Brasserie Saint James, Créme Café & Catering, Wedge – A Cheese Shop, Great Full Gardens Café & Eatery, Chocolate Walrus, Micano Home & Garden Décor and other boutique shops.

Troy Schneider, co-owner of Junkee Clothing Exchange with his wife, Jessica, says the Midtown District is reaping the rewards of five long years of hard work. The building that houses Junkee was surrounding by chain-link fencing protecting the building from vandalism and graffiti when the Schneiders opened in 2008.

This May they opened Sippee’s, a used children’s clothing exchange, across the street and have partnered with developers Tim and Bernie Carter on the 2nd Floor Offices above Sippee’s. The Carters, owners of the Ace Hardware store at 1215 S. Virginia St., also are developing the new large retail center at South Virginia and Thoma Streets.

Changing the community’s perception of Midtown Reno has been key to the success of retailers in the area, Troy Schneider says. The Schneiders, Sam Sprague from Micano Home & Garden Décor and Hillary Shieve of Plato’s Closet formed Midtown District Association to create a neighborhood brand.

“When we opened Junkee, what we now know as Midtown was less desirable,” Schenider says. “People were avoiding this area. For us, the goal of creating the district was to improve it for all business and the city — it is the corridor before you get to downtown, and it should be thriving.”

Dues paid to the association went to branding and marketing the Midtown District, and Schneider says traffic counts up and down Virginia Street have doubled in the past few years from increased numbers of patrons visiting eateries and shops in the district.

“There now is a lot of hustle and bustle down here,” he says.

The now-defunct California Avenue Merchants Association was the precursor to current neighborhood branding efforts. Debbie Branby, owner of the Cheese Board, started the association in 1985 with Donna Antraccoli, owner of Hermitage Gallery.

California Avenue is a true mixed-use neighborhood, Branby says. The mix of restaurants, boutique retail shops, professional offices share immediate proximity to apartment buildings and single-family homes.

Creating California Avenue Merchants Association was an important step in defining California Avenue as a premier business and arts district, Branby says. Successful businesses in the area include The Blue Plate, My Favorite Muffin, Sundance Books, St. James Infirmary, 1864 Tavern, Composition Café inside the Nevada Museum of Art, Newmans Deli, The Neon Dragonfly and Rubicon Deli.

“California Avenue was one of the first areas that tried to define itself as a district,” Branby says. “That is what makes a city: having neighborhood areas where people have other choices that keep them in the neighborhood. I love it when I see people walking up and down California Avenue.”

In 1990s, the City of Reno created the Raymond I. Smith River Walk, transforming a small patch of land in the heart of downtown Reno into a scenic river corridor. The addition of Century Theaters helped bring hundreds of visitors each day to the Riverwalk District, which includes businesses such as Campo, Pizza Reno, Fuego, Silver Peak, Java Jungle, Reno eNVy and a host of other small retailers.

Perhaps neighborhood no group faces a tougher uphill battle than Positively Fourth Street, though. Unlike the Riverwalk District or nearby north Wells Avenue, where traffic has been reduced to two lanes and center islands and sidewalks were installed, East Fourth Street remains as it has for decades. Businesses come and go, and the only constant seems to be the perception that it’s a run-down section of town.

Emonds of Under the Rose Brewing Company says the area was enticing because of its lower rents and the potential to re-shape retail offerings in the area.

“The price was right, and the neighborhood is going to grow,” he says. “We get to come into a cheaper neighborhood and really bring it up and drive the community forward.

“There is a public perception of Fourth Street being not a nice area. But if we don’t rebrand it we won’t have people coming down here. It is a long-term investment. We start with people who are a little more daring, the 20- and 30-somethings and college kids, to come down here and we let that word of mouth grow that we are all safe, we are fine, and come on down. We will increase foot traffic and eventually it will turn into a neighborhood people feel comfortable in.”

Emonds is using a Kickstart campaign and private investment to fund the new brewery concept, and he’s pursuing a Small Business Administration loan as well.

Tamayo of the 7,000-square-foot Bodega Lounge says revitalization of businesses on East Fourth Street benefits more than just the select retailers in the area.

“I don’t care how big of concerts we bring in; if we don’t do something outside of our businesses we can only go so far. As a group we decided to create this movement to make a difference not just on our block but throughout the entire city.”