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Businesses prepare for change

ROB SABO
Northern Nevada Business Weekly
Rob Sabo/Northern Nevada Business Weekly
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Business owners in the Washoe Valley corridor who rely heavily on the high volume of traffic traveling through Washoe and Pleasant valleys and Steamboat are preparing to market themselves in new ways after the opening of the new I-580 freeway extension.

The freeway from Reno to Carson City is scheduled to open in late 2011 or early 2012, says Scott Macgruder, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Stephanie and Paul “Chip” Garofalo, owners of Nevada Lynn Emporium for 21 years, say the store will have to rely on its strong relationships with local customers to keep revenues flowing.

The specialty store primarily sells fruits and nuts, homemade jams, jellies, pies, seasonal produce, and also operates a popular pumpkin patch during Halloween.

“We have been here more than 20 years, and we have an established reputation,” Chip Garofalo said. “People know where to find us.”

However, the couple recently listed the business for sale with Dickson Commercial Real Estate.

“We know that it will have an immediate impact,” Garofalo said of the impending freeway opening. “But it will allow for more selective shoppers and cruisers coming through the corridor at a reduced rate of speed.”

And that may prove attractive to senior drivers and day-trippers who aren’t interested in the 65-mile-per-hour rush of freeway travel. The Garofalos say that instead of the constant press of traffic – which they have seen daily for two decades because they also live at the property – the four lanes of highway running through Old Washoe City instead will become a scenic, leisurely country drive.

“If they can turn this into a nice country road where people can just take their time, maybe the accidents will be less often and they can put a few stoplights in where they have had some issues. It will be a much safer road,” Stephanie Garofalo says.

The Garofalos also said they will have to do more networking and direct mail advertising, as well as increase their presence on the Internet, to counter any declines in revenues.

“I think that will be a key factor into picking up any slack,” Chip Garofalo said.

Garofalo notes that over the years the business has stayed financially healthy through its exposure to traffic moving through U.S. 395, which spurred a great deal of impulse buying from travelers who saw the store and decided to stop and check it out.

Rob Hans, owner of Old Washoe Station and Deli Texaco station with his wife, Cindy, isn’t apprehensive about the opening of the new freeway since the bulk of his customers are locals he greets by name when they come in for gas and food.

Like other businesses in the area, Hans says his store will benefit from reduced traffic on U.S. 395 that will allow for easier entrance and egress – and may actually increase business in the future as development pushes south from Reno.

“We are excited for the freeway to open,” Hans said. “As things slow down it should help with easy in and out, and it’s also going to expedite the slow growth from Reno to Carson City. We have built a pretty decent reputation with our deli and our food, and if it was easier to get out here, especially from the south end of town, it could actually benefit us.”

Hans said Old Washoe Station probably will increase its marketing efforts to area residents, and perhaps begin a frequent shopper plan to counter any declines in revenues.

Angelo Togliatti, owner of Steamboat Trailers at 16960 S. Virginia Street, doesn’t expect to see any significant declines in sales once the freeway opens. In fact, Togliatti says, eliminating commercial traffic from his front doorstep could spur business.

“It is so difficult to get on and off the highway right now,” he said. “What we will lose in traffic we will gain in convenience – it will be so much easier to get in and out of here.”

Togliatti opened a western wear store at the site in 1981 and began selling trailers in 1992, but the western apparel store closed three years ago.

The are a few other retail establishments in the area: The Chocolate Nugget Candy Factory, and Dry Creek Garden Co, which relocated to Old Washoe City in March 2008. Another longtime retail establishment in the area, the Washoe Flats Steakhouse property, which includes an 11,104-square-foot restaurant and a 1,912-square-foot home on 5.2 acres, is closed and listed for sale with Coldwell Banker Commercial Premier Brokers of Carson City.

Rod Jorgensen, director of counseling and management for the Nevada Small Business Development Center at University of Nevada, Reno, has looked closely at the handful of retail businesses along the U.S. 395 corridor and says that some may be hit harder than others when traffic moves to the I-580 freeway.

“There is really no method of quantifying what the decrease will be, and I would envision that at least a couple of them have talked and will try to combat the decrease with billboards, and other means of convincing tourists to take the exit and come see them,” Jorgensen says.

Currently about 40,000 vehicles a day use the existing U.S. 395 route through Pleasant Valley. NDOT expects about 75 percent, or about 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles a day, including a majority of the heavy truck traffic, to use the new freeway once it’s completed.