Never Ender is closing. RN&R looks back at Reno’s long-lived gallery/boutique.
“I’m retiiiiiring,” said Melanie Crane, half whispering, half-singing behind the counter of Never Ender, her gallery and boutique in Midtown. After 13 years, two owners and five locations, Never Ender will close in March.
The shop’s history goes all the way back to pre-Recession 2004, when Midtown was not yet a destination, Holland Project was not yet born, Dickerson Road had not yet become an art-studio district, and artists fresh out of college didn’t have too many venues for showing their work.
Amber Solorzano (née Gutry) had just graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a photography degree, moved back home with her parents and gotten a food-service job.
“I spent the whole summer working at Keva Juice,” said Solorzano, who’s now an MBA candidate, director of operations for a screen printing and embroidery shop, and a mom.
At the time, a revolving door of high-energy galleries showed new work, threw good parties, and tended to last for a year or two or three. Chapter House, a popular one, was on St. Lawrence Avenue—then an out-of-the-way outpost with easy-to-find parking and little pedestrian traffic. But it was about to close.
“They were really big, nearing the end,” said Solorzano. “They also worked full-time jobs to keep it open.” She knew that to keep her gallery open, she’d have to rely on a source of income more stable than artwork sales. She decided on a front-room boutique to support both the back-room gallery and the local fashion designers and artisans whose wares she would feature. And, where artist-run galleries’ hours were typically restricted to weekends or even just receptions, Solorzano figured that the boutique’s regular retail hours would allow the public better access to the gallery work.
She named the shop after the song “Never Ender,” by Hot Water Music. “It’s about taking the things you’ve learned and teaching them to the youth of tomorrow,” she said. Toward the end of that summer, she made arrangements to lease a retail space on Liberty Street near Arlington Avenue—but there were delays.
Blessing in disguise
“We were supposed to open in August,” Solorzano said. “September came and went, and I still had no space.” Renovations lagged behind schedule. Eventually, when the holiday shopping season rolled around, the landlord lent her a nearby space for the grand-opening event.
“We put black plastic through the framing to make it look more like a gallery,” she said. “We had to hang the art onto the two-by-fours. We had a band playing in the corner. Then we had a fashion show. It came together pretty good.”
She finally moved into the Liberty Street space in December, but there were still some glitches. “We had no heat; we had no bathroom; we had no flooring; we had no front steps,” she said. Her dad and her then-boyfriend, artist Anthony Arevalo, built temporary steps out of scrap wood.
“We lived on hot chocolate from the Chevron across the street and used their bathroom,” Solorzano said. “I think it took six months to get air conditioning, heat, a bathroom floor and front steps.”
Aggravating as that may have been from a tenant’s perspective, Solorzano said, “It was kind of a blessing in disguise” for a first-time business owner. The rent was free for the first nine months, which gave the store a financial cushion that she now figures she couldn’t have done without. It also bought her some time to assess her buying strategies. Working with only local designers, she learned, wasn’t financially feasible, so she added some out-of-town clothing and accessory lines to supplement them.
Solorzano also credits Never Ender’s early success to influences and help from several others. Arevalo was often around back then. “He knew about galleries and hanging shows and fine art,” she said. “He made the gallery what it was. I’m definitely thankful for that.”
Aravelo organized a show in 2005 of just small artworks. “I think he sold, I want to say 90 or 95 percent of the work,” said Solorzano. “That was the first big show that was like, holy cow, you can show art, and you can pay your rent. That was the first big step of realizing this could work.”
Anthony Alston, then a gallery assistant at UNR, brought a lot of students in, and Never Ender was the venue for several BFA thesis exhibitions. He also made for some memorable exhibitions—including a performance art piece that surprised a lot of viewers. Lying on the ground outside, he held a bicycle in the air and “rode” it in the rain. “He was in a jock strap,” Solorzano recalled. “I’m pretty sure he had a blindfold on. He was out there for at least an hour. I don’t think people in Reno were really ready for performance art like that. That was fun.”
And Melanie Crane, Never Ender’s current owner, who is Solorzano’s mom, has been there since before Day One. She volunteered to run the shop when Solorzano needed to pick up part-time work and helped with just about anything that needed to be done. She quickly became a well-know friendly face and fashion adviser.
Never Ender moved to a space on Second Street near Ralston Street. Then, in 2008, when Solorzano’s full-time job became more demanding, she closed the brick-and-mortar shop and ran it as an online store for most of that year. Then, Crane became the owner and reopened on Cheney Street, where Death and Taxes is now. The fledgling Holland Project was then next-door.
Holland’s gallery director, Alisha Funkhouser, remembers Crane as a supportive neighbor who would recommend a stop at Holland to her shoppers or help distribute Holland’s event fliers.
“There’s so many artists in Holland’s community that have had their first shows at Never Ender,” Funkhouser added. When she heard that Crane’s farewell event was scheduled for the same date as a Holland fundraiser, she changed the date of the fundraiser so that the two galleries wouldn’t be competing for the spotlight that evening.
“We felt it was important to honor her, all of the work she’s been doing over the years,” Funkhouser said.
Re-branded— just slightly
Never Ender moved two more times, to Thoma Street, and then to the current location on St. Lawrence Ave., which is the same space Chapter House Gallery used to occupy.
A few things changed after Crane took the helm. “Mainly, I think I made the clothing more affordable,” she said. She also hasn’t scheduled any performance artists, and she’s always hired a curator for the back gallery. For the first few years, artist and musician Tony Walker had the job, then artist and curator Eric Brooks. And the surge of tourists and shoppers in Midtown has brought new business.
But Never Ender is still very much Never Ender, with its original prints and cards by well-known artists like Ron Rash and Lisa Kurt and ever-changing selection of fashions and jewelry. Crane, a lifelong fashion follower, gives wardrobe tips to shoppers in the front-room boutique, and the back-room gallery never lost its ideal of supporting up-and-coming artists.
Eric Brooks, who’s been the curator since 2012, gave a telling example. While galleries in larger cities take a commission on artwork sales of up to 70 or 80 percent, Never Ender takes just 30.
For the shop’s last hurrah, Crane and Brooks are planning an art exhibition of over two dozen artists who’ve shown there throughout the years.
The keys to keeping an independent gallery and boutique’s momentum up, said Crane, have been perseverance, showing up, working hard, and paying close attention to art and style. If you think it’s hard to imagine someone with Crane’s work ethic and a 13-year track record suddenly retiring to a golf course, you’re correct. She has other plans.
“I’m going to travel and go to music festivals,” Crane said. “I’m on the board of the Midtown District. I’ll stay on the board.”