Today’s business … in yesterday’s buildings
December 7, 2004
Operating a small business is never easy. But when owners choose to operate in century-old buildings, such as those in Old Dayton, being open for business takes on historic proportions.
Dayton Grooming had occupied several buildings in its nine years before owner Michael Viljoen purchased 45 Main St., 16 months ago. For the grooming business he runs with Debbie Williams, few upgrades were needed for the building originally constructed about 1860. For what was needed, an expansive basement made access to pipes and wiring easy.
Viljoen loves almost everything about being in the historic building. It’s spacious, with room for a small dog-boarding area and room to put the noisy and hot dryers in the basement. He also owns the building next door, constructed in the 1920s. He lives there, making it easier for customers to drop off dogs before work.
“If there’s one thing I don’t like,” he said, “I love the (large) doors, but in cold weather they tend to stick.”
More than one hundred years ago, the building housed the Union Market and Butchers. Meat hooks still hang in the basement. Rocks forming the face of the building came from the old Nevada State Prison quarry. Chinese workers carved and laid them. The 16-inch thick blocks, which insulate the interior, go down to below basement level, Viljoen said. Old ranch brands are burned into the wood floor.
“Sometimes in the summer, I sit on the bench (in front) and think about what it was like back then,” Viljoen said.
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Down the street from Dayton Grooming, work continues on the 1887 building that houses the Wild Horse Saloon and Gold Canyon Steakhouse. But for Joe France and his partner in business and life, Bonnie Stryker, it’s been a labor of love.
“We’ve been restoring the building for eight years,” France said. “It’s like having an old-model car.”
The joys of operating in a historic building include the wide doors and high ceilings characteristic of Victorian-era construction. On the other hand, heating the building has been a challenge, they said. In addition to a central heating unit, they added insulation as they remodeled, built or remodeled three fireplaces, and use portable grill furnaces where needed to keep it cozy. And then there’s the tendency for pipes to freeze, France added.
After purchasing the building with nearly an acre, France and Stryker first opened the Wild Horse Saloon and lived in the back, which was once a rooming house for miners.
As restoration progressed, they opened, then enlarged, the restaurant and banquet room. Next year, they plan to add a gazebo and landscaping for outdoor events.
And what’s a historic building without a few Victorian-era residents who never left?
“It’s supposed to be inhabited by ghosts,” France said. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Stryker is more willing to believe.
For France, the biggest frustration has not been the age and condition of the building, but what all business owners stress over: Getting the word out.
After eight years in business, France said he still has Dayton residents coming in saying they had no idea the restaurant was there.
“No one knows we have three lovely restaurants in Dayton because they’re off the beaten path,” France said, referring to Gold Canyon, Mia’s Swiss Restaurant and Compadres Mexican Restaurant, all in historic buildings in Old Dayton, a block or two off Highway 50.
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Around the corner, Mia’s Swiss Restaurant is the most established and well known of the businesses in Old Dayton. But 25 years ago, Mia and Max Kuerzi would rather have avoided the hassles of the historic building.
The Kuerzis, who learned the restaurant business in their native Switzerland, moved into the historic Odeon Hall and Saloon after their Carson City restaurant closed.
The Odeon Hall was originally constructed in 1862 by the Odd Fellows as a meeting and dance hall.
“We had it in mind to go to Reno,” Mia said. “Back then, Dayton was nothing.”
Opportunities in Reno and Carson City failed to pan out, so they settled in Dayton.
“I didn’t know how much work it would be getting (the building) quite right. We did as much work ourselves as we could. The kitchen, dining room, everything – it was never here before. The upstairs (banquet room) was awful.”
With many battles behind them, the Kuerzis plan to retire in July, and the old Odeon Hall will be in someone else’s hands.
“There’s a lot of change coming around. It will really be nice when they can make an attraction out of things (in Old Dayton),” she said. “They need a little more cleaning up here.”
Other owners agree. Improvements to Old Dayton and promoting its historical sites will increase business.
“There’s a bunch of people moving into the area. I hope the city fathers start doing something about downtown Dayton,” France said.