Retailing in an impossible space |

Retailing in an impossible space

Pat Patera

It was the best of spaces; it was the worst of spaces.

It boasted a location in the heart of downtown Reno, directly adjacent to the movie theatre, with loads of foot traffic and a gorgeous view overlooking the river.

But it lacked even a modicum of water or plumbing and measured only 250 square feet. Besides, the owner didn’t care to lease the property.

So the space remained a vacuum for seven long years.

Meanwhile, the kayak park turned into a titanic success and drew people in numbers akin to a grunion run. Locals and tourists alike strolled about and into the shops that now lined the riverfront terrace.

And still the postage-stamp sized but now- prime-location space sat empty.

It wasn’t as if no one wanted it.

There had been a lot of interest, from both retail and restaurants, says Mark Hammon, owner of Truckee River Gallery, the entity that ultimately won the wallflower.

He’d lusted after the lonely lady for years. Three years back he prepared a proposal and asked Century Theatres for her hand. But they weren’t entertaining suitors.

The story behind the space is a strange one. The movie theatre was designed with ticket sales fronting and alongside the main building, says Hammon.

But when Century chiefs visited the site and realized what a cold and windy place was downtown Reno, they said, “We can’t have customers standing outside to buy tickets.” They redesigned the theatre to shelter the ticket lobby inside. The arc of nine ticket windows, arms spread wide in a 25-foot welcoming span, remained as a relic.

A year ago, taking his daughter to the movies, Hammon realized that Century Theatres was under new management; Cinemark had bought them out.

He dusted off and resubmitted his proposal. It was accepted. At last, the long-frustrated suitor possessed the much-coveted space: a dainty 250-square-foot foyer with one-and-a-half walls.

Truckee River Gallery opened at summer’s end. “Due to a series of delays, I missed the summer season,” says Hammon. “And that was when the economy slowed. It was a difficult winter; it was slow. With the new economy, I have very conservative expectations of profit.” But Hammon has a second agenda. “As an artist, it’s partly vision,” he admits. “My girlfriend says the space is my piece of art.”

Hammon also works as a photographer and computer consultant. Gallery manager Naomi Nickerson works as an artist and a teacher. And they like having a strong venue from which to sell their artwork.

A small venue.

To take advantage of the churning foot traffic along the Riverwalk, Truckee River Gallery changes out shows every two to four weeks some shows sprint past in a week.

And Hammon makes sure the traffic takes notice.

With each change of art, he changes the gallery layout. A modular system of art hanging hardware installed not only along the walls but also in the ceiling supports moveable walls of fabric. Cloths of many colors change out along with the art.

“So it’s radically obvious that there’s something new going on inside,” he says. The gallery specializes in serious local and regional artists about 45 of them, with more approaching the gallery each day.

But how does one squeeze that many artists into a ticket booth?


Being a computer consultant, Hammon is building a database that’s searchable by artist, subject, even color scheme.

The little shop space along the river, he says, is like the tip of an iceberg. The bulk of inventory will be accessible through the database in tandem with a Web site.

“People can browse artwork by artists who may not be hanging,” he says. “It may be as important as the gallery as a sales tool.”