Retailers flocking to Carson locations |

Retailers flocking to Carson locations

Anne Knowles

After a decade of decline, retail is resurgent in Carson City.

In the last month, the cavernous Carson Mall in the center of town has filled up with two anchor stores — the 40,000-square-foot Sportsman Warehouse and Bealls, a 25,000-square-foot outlet of the Houston-based clothing store chain.

At the same time, a Ross Dress for Less relocated from just over the Douglas County line to Southgate Center, a south Carson City mall that languished after Wal-Mart moved and until Big Lots and Big 5 Sports stores replaced it and an Olive Garden restaurant soon followed. Next door to the discount clothing retailer, Rue 21, a Pittsburgh-based clothing store chain, opened its doors a couple weeks later, filling up the once-struggling Carson Street mall.

And in one of the most surprising and encouraging signs, Miles Construction is in the midst of gutting and remodeling a building long ago vacated by Scolari’s Food and Drug Co. on East Williams Street. The refurbished building will be filled up by a 99 Cents Only Stores location and a second, undisclosed tenant in the mall managed by Hone Co. That will follow new venues along the Highway 50 corridor, including a Tractor Supply Co. store, all of which are clustered around the relatively new onramps to Highway 395.

More is coming. A Taco Bell fast-food restaurant, for example, is being built next to the Hampton Inn & Suites hotel in north Carson while the city’s most popular McDonald’s, at the corner of Winnie Lane and Carson Street, has been torn down and is being rebuilt in the same spot. That’s on the heels of two Jimmy John’s sandwich shops and a wildly popular Buffalo Wild Wings, which opened six months ago, and, most recently, Francisco’s, a second location of the Minden-based Mexican restaurant.

“It’s tremendous, compared to the crickets we’ve been hearing for 10 years,” says Andie Wilson, principal with NAI Alliance in the state capital. “And there are some other things in the works that we can’t talk about yet.”

So what explains the influx of new retail in Carson City?

“I’d like to know the answer if you find it,” says Wilson. “It is an anomaly.”

Wilson doesn’t attribute it to reduced lease rates, which are only slightly lower than those in Reno, or to retailers following other merchants into a new market.

“I think we got hit harder than the rest of the state and the farther you fall, the higher you bounce back,” she says.

Wilson and other real estate brokers say, most likely, a lot of deals were long in the works are coincidentally coming together at once.

“I think it’s been happening for some time,” says Bruce Robertson, a senior advisor at Sperry Van Ness. “Some of these deals take a long time to negotiate. The Sportsman Warehouse went in, then Bealls right after that. But it’s been happening for a while. The city needs more retail.”

Those deals were enabled in part by assistance from the city, which agreed to reimburse 50 percent of the tenants’ sales tax back to the Carrington Co., the mall’s managers, so it could remodel.

But with or without incentives, retailers are flocking to nearly all areas of Carson City. Robertson says there is a lot of interest in the downtown Carson Street building across from the Carson Nugget, which was recently vacated by High Sierra Brewery. He said the brewing equipment remains with the building so another brewery/restaurant will likely go in, although there are plans for multiple tenants for the multi-story building.

South Carson is filling up, though some vacancies remain, as is the Highway 50 stretch going east. North Carson, the hardest hit area, where the Northgate Mall remains nearly empty, is expecting some new retailers following a recently opened Anytime Fitness health club.

“We’re the central shopping hub for the region,” says Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. “People come from South Lake, all the way to Bridgeport, Douglas and Lyon counties. Even south Washoe residents consider this where they shop.”

That encourages national chains to locate in the city, says Hannaman, and a new, 420-home housing development will likely provide more incentive. The long-delayed Schulz Ranch project in south Carson is starting up again and its developers are working with the city now to get needed permits to build 100 homes for the first phase of the development.

The new retail is starting to boost the city’s bottom line. Taxable sales in Carson City rose 2.8 percent between July 2013 and March 2014, and 4.9 percent in March, compared to the same month a year earlier.

“We haven’t seen huge increases, but they are consistent increases,” says Bryan Wachter, director of public and government affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada. “And we’re seeing increases in a lot of different categories, which leads us to be optimistic.”