Highway to the future
Decades in the making, the soon-to-be-completed section of the Carson City Freeway Project will finally give motorists a fast route around low-speed, stoplight-laden Carson Street.
But with this change in traffic also will come a change in business for the establishments along Carson Street north of Fairview Drive.
For the downtown merchants, the change is seen as a good thing, another step in redeveloping the area into a shopping and entertainment venue.
“When we have a freeway through the middle of town that carries a very heavy traffic load, (that) makes it unsafe to negotiate the street,” said Joe McCarthy, director of the Carson City Office of Business Development. “Once we can control the street as a municipality, we can configure the street in ways that are more conducive to attracting people who are coming downtown.”
But such a change will have an impact, McCarthy said.
“In the short run, it will hurt businesses that depend on pass-through traffic, gas stations, some of the smaller morning breakfast-type places may be impacted,” McCarthy said. “But I think they eventually are going to see a favorable uptick in their business because more people will come here as a destination and not a pass-through. That is really the key, destination versus pass-through.”
Kristy Servati, marketing director for the Horseshoe Club and board member of the Carson City Downtown Business Association, thinks the change will be good for her downtown business.
“I think the reduction in traffic will make a big difference,” Servati said. “I think people will feel safer coming down here, without all the big trucks rolling through. It’s scary sometimes to cross the street.”
Paul Schmidt, owner of Denny’s restaurant on North Carson Street, is more pessimistic about the change in traffic patterns.
“I don’t think anyone has the data, but I can guarantee you it will impact north Carson,” Schmidt said. “If you look at the restaurants here, most are geared toward travelers. If you take the travelers away, that’s going to hurt.”
Schmidt estimates that about 40 percent of his business comes from people traveling through the area.
“If that drops, I’m in trouble,” Schmidt said. “If I lose 20 percent of my business, I’ll close the doors.”
A couple of local gas station owners aren’t as worried about the drop in traffic.
“I don’t anticipate a whole lot of change,” said Terry Kelly, owner of the Short Stop Market on North Carson Street, who noted that most of his business comes from local people in his immediate area. “It may have an effect, I don’t know.”
“I don’t think this phase is going to affect me,” said Bob Lamkin, owner of Bob’s Shell Service, located north of the Carson Nugget. “By the time they get this freeway done, the traffic count here on Carson Street will still be like it was back in the ’90s. The freeway may move a bunch of people, but there is still going to be a lot of cars going past here.”
Lamkin noted his local customers will not be affected by the change in traffic patterns.
“My bread and butter is my back room business, my local people, my service and repair business,” Lamkin said.
Michael Millard, general manager of the Plaza Hotel in downtown Carson City, thinks the freeway will force them to change the way they do business, especially in terms of signage.
“We just have to gear up our marketing plan,” Millard said. “It’s going to cost us more money, billboard, signage, whatever. We are going to have to be more specific in telling people how to find us.”
But Millard thinks Carson City can survive and thrive with the freeway in place.
“There’s a lot of people who say the bypass is devastating, we’re all in trouble, close your doors because it’s going to be a ghost town,” Millard said. “I don’t see how it could be. Carson City has too much to offer as the hub to Lake Tahoe, Reno, Virginia City, the V& T Railroad, the beauty of the Sierra, the car shows, the sporting events. There’s a lot of draw to Carson City.”
A drive-through business like Carson Coffee in north Carson City would seem to be one of those businesses that could be hurt by the freeway. But owner Curt Spradley thinks the drop in traffic will help his business.
“Frankly, I’m looking forward to the bypass, because it will eliminate all the trucks which are the big problem here,” Spradley said. “In the afternoon when traffic is bumper to bumper, that affects us negatively. You can’t get out of the flow of traffic. If you are going south you can’t cross. If you get out of the flow of traffic and come into here, then it’s almost impossible to get back into it.”
Spradley said he has a regular clientele, and those people will keep coming back, freeway or not.
“Our philosophy is if you do a good job, sell it at a fair price, you keep the place clean and give people quality, they will find their way to you,” Spradley said. “There’s success stories year after year of places where they have to draw you a map to find them.”