Everyone sees them, the empty storefront windows, the "For Lease" signs, the deserted parking spaces.
The economic good times of the last few years led to an explosion of commercial retail space being built in Carson City. And now that the economy has retreated, it's left many of these spaces empty.
A recent drive down both sides of Carson Street revealed 109 empty commercial properties and storefronts, with many more along the other thoroughfares.
The vacant properties range from small storefronts to the huge Kmart building in north Carson. The count includes the long-closed Ormsby House and the newly vacated Michael Hohl Chevrolet, which relocated to the Hohl GM dealership on South Carson Street.
There are the older spaces like the completely empty strip mall adjacent to Adele's Restaurant on North Carson, to the brand new Ribeiro Carson-Tahoe Quail development at the south end of town, where all but one space is empty.
"I had no idea that so many small businesses were no longer operating or that we did have so many empty small spaces because we tend to concentrate on the big box stores," said Carson City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ronni Hannaman. "With this many storefronts vacant, that certainly almost could be considered the same impact as a vacant big box, if not more."
Joe McCarthy, Carson City's business development director, tries to see the vacancy problem in a positive light.
"I see a lot of businesses doing well in a sense they are surviving a very down market, and I think our community is doing well considering," McCarthy said. "Granted there are some vacant storefronts, but there will be an opportunity for some regeneration in those storefronts."
McCarthy said he anticipates some new and and exciting businesses will start in Carson City in the next couple of years.
Kelly Bland, of NAI Alliance, represents the owner of the former Mervyn's building on South Carson Street. He said they have had conversations with some prospects, but nothing he could talk about right now. The size, 60,000 square feet, makes it a challenge to find a tenant.
"The options are fewer, but it's a nice location," Bland said.
The glut of empty stores does create an opportunity for those looking to open a business. Not only is that a selection of prime space available, but it also creates a buyer's market where leasees have more negotiating power.
Several new stores and restaurants have opened in recent months at the Carson Mall.
"Our success comes from the fact we are the only indoor shopping mall in Carson City," said Kevin Ray, the local property manager for mall owner The Carrington Company. "It gives us a synergy the others don't have."
Ray said it helps that they don't have the overhead some of the newer developments have, so they can charge lower rents.
"We are more mindful of what our tenants are going through," Ray said. "We want to make sure our tenants succeed."
Even so, the imminent closing of Gottschalk's, the mall's anchor store, threatens to leave a big hole. Ray said that they have had discussions with other retailers about moving into this space, but no deals have been made. Ray said he is optimistic about finding a new tenant because the space has a track record of being profitable, and was one of Gottschalk's best performing properties.
Brugo's Pizza Company and Bistro sits in the shadow of multiple empty storefronts in the mall adjacent to the vacant Kmart building on North Carson Street. But that hasn't really hampered their business.
"I can't imagine what business would be like if all those stores were filled," said owner Troy McDonald. "We are slammed now. We're doing great."
Brugo's will be taking up one of those storefronts this fall when it expands into the empty space next door. They are also opening another Brugo's in Reno.
Hannaman said that once the economy turns around, many of the empty storefronts will start filling up again.
"On the bright side, there are new small businesses opening monthly, just not in the numbers to make a dent in this vacancy rate," Hannaman said. "I am confident this will turn around when the economy turns around."