Chamber News & Views: What will it take to attract you to the downtown? |

Chamber News & Views: What will it take to attract you to the downtown?

Ronni Hannaman
Recently completed Bob McFadden Plaza is attracting all ages to enjoy the family friendly setting in the downtown.
Ronni Hannaman |

The city is conducting a survey to determine what it will take to have you put the pedal to the metal, get on your bicycle or lace up your walking shoes to explore the “new” downtown. As it presently stands, while there are some nice ‘go to” destination businesses to enjoy dining and shopping, there’s not enough to keep you fully engaged.

We’ve heard over and over again there is a need for small unique shops to attract locals and visitors. We’ve heard the need for more restaurants to tempt your taste buds. We’ve heard events may get you off your couch. And, that ice cream shop you keep talking about may become a reality!

Small shops and eating and drinking places have graced our downtown for years, but some ceased to thrive due to lack of local support. While the Telegraph Square experiment in 1999 was less than successful, now the time may be right to enjoy the renaissance a new look and feel can bring and to patronize those who are taking a risk by opening a new business.

However, the challenge remains whether the Internet and box stores will continue to draw shoppers away from the downtown retailer. National dining chains offer consistency and known pricing. A meal at our local Applebee’s is the same as an Applebee’s meal in Detroit.

Can small business survive in today’s downtown? That’s the million-dollar question. Rhonda Abrams of USA Today writes, “Even with the retail giant Amazon and large box stores, the smaller retailer can survive.” She further acknowledges the convenience of online shopping, citing the many perks given by Amazon to their Amazon Prime customers to keep market share, even going so far as to lose dollars for the company.

However, the local non-national retailer has a fighting chance if they provide “human connection,” according to Abrams.

Human connection is what Carson City is all about. It’s a place where everyone smiles and if you go to a business a few times, the owner will know your name. That’s how downtown shopping used to be.

We all love perceived discounts ala Walmart and perhaps Costco. These stores have been criticized for taking business away from the small retailer, yet many small retailers have become smart enough to offer items not found in the big box stores while creating a friendly experience not found in the large box stores.

Businesses banding together is a way to grow business for each small business, cites Abrams. The reason shopping centers thrive is because of the many choices afforded the shopper. The monthly wine walk on the first Saturday of each month in the downtown core is a testament that this philosophy works. While wine may be the hook, participating businesses add considerably to their bottom line on this day.

It is hoped Carson City’s shopping experience will continue to grow and diversify as the city undergoes redevelopment and continues to serve as the regional shopping hub for the surrounding area.

Already, Bob McFadden Plaza is proving to be successful. This former street was a place for a few cars to park.

Today, the restaurants are thriving, especially when there is a concert or impromptu entertainment. It’s become a gathering place for families to enjoy the water feature. Mom & Pop’s has put out bright orange padded chairs under canopies to make their diners more comfortable. The patio at Firkin’ & Fox is attracting more customers, as is the wine bar.

“Small Business Trends” predicts a healthy future for small business. Those over 55 – the storied Boomers – will still be the customers to attract since they will continue to have the disposal income that comes with empty nesters and now appreciate the “small” retailer. The Hispanic consumer is predicted to double within the next 10 years. The new powerhouse will be the Millennials already proving they are quite the shoppers, especially for anything electronic.

Will we ever go back to the halcyon days of the 1950s & 1960s before shopping malls raped customers from the downtown? Only time will tell. The local shopper will hold the key to that success.

Within the region, two MainStreet organizations were created to bring back the “downtown experience.” MainStreet Gardnerville already has been recognized nationally for their work and MainStreet Minden has just started to gain traction. Reno, too, is working hard to attract businesses other than casinos to their downtown and mid-town.

Brookings Institute predicts shoppers will be tired of the “lifestyle” malls that discourage walking between stores since they are so far apart. The average shopper will walk no more than 1500 feet to patronize a store or restaurant. Indoor malls used to offer the “experience:” food, entertainment, shopping, places to sit and enjoy people watching.” That all went away with the advent of lifestyle malls. Revitalized downtowns are bringing back the shop-to-shop experience.

Downtowns today can revive if they have the right mix. People will come and enjoy the full experience that can come with activities and the attraction provided by specialty retailers that beckon. Better dining and entertainment venues bring those who want to make “a night of it” to the downtown. Safe streets are key.

Carson City can revive its heyday, becoming the city so many envision and used to enjoy. But, the buy-in comes from the consumer/customer. Take time to fill out the survey and become a part of the new beginning. retail-restaurant-survey