Esteban Carranza, the 32-year-old owner of Blissed Out Skate Shop in the Carson Mall, summed up the spirit of small business:
“It’s scary,” he said, “taking everything you got and hoping it works out.”
Representing one of the newest businesses in the Carson Mall, Carranza is not alone. The mall has more than 20 businesses. Most of them are mom-and-pop shops. The mall also has a variety of restaurants. Together and individually, the businesses have been gearing up for the holiday shopping season including Small Business Saturday on Nov. 26.
On Monday, the Appeal toured the mall with Carson City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ronni Hannaman and Chelsea Lavender, promotions director for the mall.
“It’s the oldest indoor mall in Nevada,” Lavender said, noting the mall was built in 1972. “We’re almost at 100 percent capacity.”
The mall is now decorated for the holidays, full of kaleidoscopic offerings not only from the established storefronts, but from vendors in the holiday craft show that will run until Christmas Eve.
It hasn’t been all holiday cheer the last few years.
“After COVID, it was just dead,” said Lavender. “It was a ghost town in here.”
Talking to businesses, one theme quickly emerged: resilience.
“We’re slowly recovering from two years of COVID,” said Jo Moore, co-owner Ogres-Holm Pottery.
The pottery store doubles as a studio and hosts 15-25 artists, who each display up to five pieces for sale. Moore was busy with family members preparing for their Empty Bowls fundraiser on Dec. 2.
“We work closely with FISH (Friends In Service Helping),” she said, noting they’ve raised up to $15,000 for FISH in past years. “Carson City is coming back.”
According to survey results collected by the Nevada Small Business Development Center over the summer, many small businesses in the Silver State are still struggling with inflation, supply chains, and other issues. It’s taken strength to hold on, to grow even.
“I’m not done in the beer game,” said 2004 Carson High graduate Pat Duncan.
In July, after taking a hit during the pandemic with his first beer business, Duncan took the leap to a brick-and-mortar store inside the mall. The Beer Studio showcases local brews, including those of Carson-based Shoe Tree Brewing Co.
Duncan recalled visiting the mall when he was a kid.
“This is my hometown,” he said. “As more people find out about this hidden spot, they come out of the woodwork.”
He said some Carson residents don’t even know the mall has an interior space.
“(Beer) is the way to everyone’s heart,” he said. “I feel we have a good lineup now.”
Next door to the Beer Studio is Wild Horse Gallery, seller of jewelry, antiques, and collectibles. Owner Jim Castaneda has run a shop by the same name in Virginia City for 25 years. He has been at the Carson Mall for more than five years.
“We have our own customers, and that’s a good thing,” he said.
He said the store’s jewelry is unique.
“You can’t just order it online,” he said. “Everything I have in here is different.”
Carranza from Blissed Out is also trying to offer something unique. The shop specializes in skateboards and accessories from skater-owned companies. They offer skate shoes made from vegan materials.
“We’re just making sure we’re keeping it by skateboarders for skateboarders,” Carranza said.
The skate shop has already sponsored two young skaters from Mills Park. Carranza said “blissed out” describes the euphoria of landing a tough trick.
“When you hit the skateboard, you get rid of thoughts and only have feelings,” he said. “We want to pass on what it feels like to be blissed out.”
Hannaman said small businesses – those with fewer than 500 employees – make up the character of the capital city.
“They’re giving you their passion and their journey,” she said.
Isabella McConnell, for example, co-owns Magical Moments with Lavender. The giftshop has been a source of passion for McConnell.
“Everything is handmade by me,” she said, “down to the bows on the tree.”
Because of Lavender’s role as promo director, Magical Moments acts as a touchpoint for other businesses in the mall. Lavender listed all the holiday events coming up: the Festival of Trees running Dec. 1-20, a tree lighting Dec. 4, and story time with Santa Dec. 4 and Dec. 20. She said bringing people out to the mall helps everyone.
Carson Home Furnishings is no small part of that. The 20-employee operation has both a main store and an outlet store in the mall, anchoring the north and south sides and bringing in customers. Blane Cox owns the business with his wife, Melissa. It’s their first business, and he said he was scared when they started out.
“When you first start a new business, the first thing people tell you is only 50 percent of new businesses survive,” he said.
The shutdown during the pandemic hurt, Cox said, but they were able to thrive because people still needed furniture.
“People were kind of summoned to their homes,” he explained.
“I don’t even want to remember those days,” Hannaman added, recalling how many small businesses suffered.
Cox, who moved from California to start the venture, said he’s in escrow on a new house in Carson, an investment in the community.
“Support local and shop local. I live and die by that,” he said.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Small Business Saturday was founded by American Express in 2010 and has been cosponsored by the SBA since 2011.
“Historically, reported projected spending among U.S. consumers who shopped at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday reached an estimated $23.3 billion according to the 2021 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey commissioned by American Express,” the SBA website says. “This year, we know that small businesses need our support now more than ever as they navigate, retool, and pivot from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.”
According to the Retail Association of Nevada, an estimated 1.7 million Nevadans will shop over the holiday weekend.
“RAN forecasts Nevada’s consumer retail sales for the holiday shopping season to grow by 8 percent this year to reach a record $6.5 billion,” the association said in a Nov. 16 press release.
Shopping at small businesses makes a difference, Hannaman said.
“You’re keeping the character of the city,” she emphasized.