It was quiet in the Telegraph Street shops on Wednesday afternoon. Gary Windisch sat behind the counter of The Treasure Basket waiting for customers, while a small "Business for Sale" sign peeked through merchandise.
"I don't know what we need to do down here to get more business," Windisch said. "It's sad, and I don't know how to solve it."
Shoppers who used to walk past the small gift shop and stop in for a basket of lotions, treats or trinkets have slowly disappeared during the past year. The owner decided to sell the business.
Across the street, Beauty and the Beads owner Gloria Lee said business shrunk 25 percent last year and 30 percent during the holiday season. She suspects customers are turning to newly opened chain stores near Wal-Mart in northern Douglas County.
After 11 years at her shop in Carson City's historic downtown, Lee said she expects customers will return someday.
"Eventually, if they want quality, they'll find it," she said.
Windisch agreed, looking around the gift shop filled with name-brand items.
"You can beat the price if you go to Wal-Mart, but you won't get the same brand," he said.
Downtown redevelopment officials are taking steps to encourage more foot traffic downtown as they look years ahead to the opening of the Carson City freeway, expected to relieve downtown of pass-through traffic. Officials are looking at providing more parking or safer walking routes to encourage business.
The city's Redevelopment Authority recently placed a kiosk at the corner of Telegraph and Carson streets and has started talking about allowing more mixed residential and retail projects in the commercial center. Officials have also opened discussions with business owners and residents about changing zoning in the historic district to encourage people to live, walk, work, visit, and shop downtown.
City planners and engineers recently started working on a parking study to identify needs downtown.
"We want to start identifying where parking demands are," said Economic Development and Redevelopment manager Joe McCarthy. "The results of the study will give us new, fresh information to be able to make decisions on future public/private partnerships to develop surface or structure parking."
The Redevelopment Authority set aside money to build a parking garage, but it won't be enough to build an entire structure without partnering with the state or private businesses, McCarthy said.
Mixing a parking garage with retail outlets or building a garage in locations that are currently surface parking lots are some ideas being discussed.
"It fits right hand and glove," said Supervisor and Redevelopment Authority Chairwoman Robin Williamson. "One thing we always hear is we need more parking or a parking garage."
The last parking study done is outdated, said Williamson, who is expecting the new study to be done in six months.
"We can take a look at how different parking is being used," Williamson said. "We need to take a look at where our crowded areas are."
Redevelopment committee members are also planning to meet with pedestrian advocates in May or June to walk through downtown and get a sense of what should be included in the city's developing pedestrian plan.
"We're making sure there's a safe way to walk if they park farther away," Williamson said.
Finding a place to park near Telegraph shops can be difficult, but a few spaces were open Wednesday. The streets provide two-hour parking slots and smaller lots for the Carson Horseshoe Club.
"Yesterday someone said parking was terrible," Lee said. It was the first comment she had heard in a while about parking, she said. "You don't necessarily have to park right in front of where you're going."
Contact Jill Lufrano at email@example.com or 881-1217.