Carson City should take a chance and focus on small businesses |

Carson City should take a chance and focus on small businesses

John DiMambro
Nevada Appeal publisher

Being a resident of the Carson City community – a city with a plan – is comforting to me. Whatever concerns I have had, I have shared them openly with city and state officials. One of my concerns is what I believe to be a desensitized magnet to draw distinctive retail to our city. You can be the most socially available person sitting on a bar stool, but that doesn’t always mean you’ll get dated. But I’ve said enough about local retail (for now).

One of my other concerns is aimed at what may be a mud-caked welcome mat to small business entrepreneurship that now looks like … well … mud. I just want to raise our awareness to this possibility and begin hosing off the mud so we can read the word “Welcome” embossed on its matting.

I have read many articles in business magazines about young adults (underline the word “young”) starting their own business. Some graduate with a college degree, some do not. Either way, I am fully supportive of anyone who carries out their will to start their own business. Not everyone can be Bill Gates (thank God!). I’m for the small people who are just looking to do what they do because they enjoy it and want to support their families. It could be argued that Bill Gates and Sam Walton started out that way, but I don’t buy it.

Where is the room for the young entrepreneur? The young entrepreneur who does not have the correct change to pay for rent and operations longer than start-up time requires to catch a small business wave of success?

The cost of residential property has often been the concern of our community as a deterrent to people wanting to move to our area. But let us consider the other side of this alleged dark side of Carson’s moon. If people really want to live with aspirations to begin a small business and enjoy a quality of life, before they even take a look at the price tags of residential property, they need to look at the dollar sign in front of commercial property, be it to own or rent. But even before they get that far, they need to see how their small business ideas comply with market demand.

My point is, real estate costs are only part of the probable issues that may ward people from moving here. If the metaphoric fruit pie of Eden that Carson City offers retailers for slicing is only the size of a Frisbee to begin with, what remaining piece (or crumb) of that pie can still sustain further slicing before those standing in line decide to fall out of line because the piece left to them is fruitless? The number of gargantuan retailers in our limited commercial area (Wal-Mart, CostCo, Home Depot, Lowes, Office Depot, and maybe Sam’s Club) have pushed the smaller people out of the pie line.

Want to open a pizza shop? CostCo sells slices bigger than my head and whole pizza pies that looks like the ring around Saturn for less than some smaller pizzerias can make them. And don’t even get me started on lunches as in anyone trying to set up a small diner or restaurant. Even Starbucks serves sandwiches now. A quaint book store? Borders has that cornered. And to be clear in what I am saying, this problem is not unique to Carson City, but I would like to continue to see our city as being different – a place where you can start a small business and not be immediately crushed by the big marts of our planet, and I’m not quite sure we can get away from their dominant foot steps.

The Internet has done more harm to small business than good. Nothing we can do about that, I suppose. If big-box stores don’t have what you want, the Internet does. Books, music, movies, furniture, home and garden improvements and accents, art, flowers, jewelry, basket arrangements, even cars. So that leaves us with business services. Plumbing, electrical, carpentry, landscaping. Oh, wonderful. Can you imagine what a delightful stroll downtown that would be? Let’s window shop Joey’s Plumbing Services, and after that stop by and see what Leo’s Electric has on sale this week for rewiring jobs. Not actually the quaint stroll in and out of boutiques and galleries that we envision now, is it?

Let’s say that someone wanted to start a bakery or a catering service in Carson City, but does not have the funds up-front to pay for store space? You’re screwed. Because it is a state food establishment code that you cannot cook out of your home for public consumption of commercial goods (and for good reason, which relate to health and safety concerns and regulations). So, what does this all mean? Store front! Go to your smart boards. Business idea plus store front rent equals busted piggie bank.

Sound like a defeatist attitude? Sound negative? No. Protective? Yes. I do not want our city – Carson City – to lose its character. Nor do I want it to lose what makes it different from so many other cities. Small business entrepreneurship, along with manufacturing, is the spinal chord that will govern whether we stand upright or collapse.

So what is my recommendation to avoid small business owners from looking away from Carson City? Well, I think we – like other cities – have painted ourselves into a corner with big-box stores, but this is what I would love to see: I would love to see our city make a gutsy move in overstepping the immediate benefit of sales taxes that the big marts promise to bring in favor of the long-term steadiness of maintaining and even improving the small-town quaintness and cozy character of our city. I know, that’s a big order, but I would love to see it anyway.

If any one of our large auto dealers leave our city, we will be in a tax-loss situation anyway, so why not take the in-control stance and focus on attracting 20 or 30 small businesses – especially to our downtown area – instead of one or two large mart monsters? Annapolis, Md., has very successfully maintained what I consider to be a perfect model of small business diversity in their downtown area, so it can be done. But unless we begin to narrow our focus on small business, those minnows in the fish tank will be swallowed up by the carnivores.

I still think we are thinking too much about the big businesses – so much that we are scraping the would-be ground soil of small business from the bottoms of our shoes, on to the mud-caked welcome mat that should be inviting them to come on in and rest awhile.

• John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at