Crowds on the river

“Downtown is doomed … We should letit go and figure out what comes next.” Thus spoke columnist Cory Farley in Sunday’s Reno Gazette-Journal, channeling the mindset of some of his readers. I’ve recently decided that these critics are wrong.

Downtown is not defunct—now there’s a dandy marketing slogan—and I’ve got one day’s worth of anecdotal evidence to prove it.

I’ve been enjoying the Century Riverside movie theater for more than a year now. It’s a great place to catch a flick, and that’s speaking as a person who still has a “Green space not screen space” bumper sticker in my home office. Not only does the Keystone get to live there—the crowds are generally thin, matinee discounts are offered longer on weekends and there’s easy parking at the Parking Gallery.

Did I mention the lack of crowds? Sometimes there’d be only a handful of people at a showing, even at a showing of a just-released movie. It was great.

Note my use of the past tense.

On Saturday, it all became crystal clear that my Riverside experience had been sadly altered.

I pulled into the Parking Gallery and headed up. And up. And up. The place was jammed with cars and people. Some of them were local people. I know this because more than one car had proud parent bumper stickers printed with the names of local schools and one mini-van sported an Awana Sparky church sticker. From this, I deduced that wholesome local families were going downtown.

I found a place to park on the fourth level. That’s two levels higher than usual. I hiked down to the ground level. Lots of traffic. Lots of people crossing the street to the Riverside. People wandering up First Street, popping into the little galleries and shops. Moms and dads with kids in tow hanging out along the river.

In the theater, I had to wait in one of three lines to buy a ticket. I had to wait in one of five lines to buy popcorn. I had to wait in an even longer line to get to the ticket-taker. It seemed almost busier than it had been last week during the Reno Film Festival.

Folks poured into the showing of Shallow Hal as if this were a happening place. Monsters, Inc. was an event. Maybe I was just there at some anomalous crowd-happy moment. Nevertheless, I felt a surge of hope for downtown. OK, maybe not a surge. But definitely more than a trickle.

I drove home through the traffic and paused for a light alongside the Mapes lot, where an ice rink is taking shape. The fence around this lot is tasteful iron, not twisted cyclone. The unMapes will be a lovely place to skate. I’m already planning the perfect day in downtown: a late-afternoon at the rink; a jaunt to, maybe, the Siena for dinner—or even The Nugget Diner for half an Awful-Awful; then to the Riverside for a movie. Then I could walk along the river, imagining that some cozy little bookstore or ice cream parlor or wine bar had moved into one of those choice but empty shops facing the river.

Hey, there’s another great slogan.

“Reno—vendors sought.”

Catchy, eh?