Going underground

The Basement is Reno’s new urban marketplace

Brianna Bullentini, lead designer of The Basement, sits in the open coworking area of The Basement.

Brianna Bullentini, lead designer of The Basement, sits in the open coworking area of The Basement.

Photo/Ashley Hennefer

A marketplace was once the center of a city—a bustling space for commerce and community. And while sprawl and chain stores caused many communities to deviate from that, there’s been a concerted effort across the United States to resurrect the neighborhood marketplace. New York City in particular has markets in spades, including the famous Chelsea Market, after which many others around the world have been modeled.

The appeal of New York living is what inspired designer Brianna Bullentini—originally a Renoite, a New Yorker for seven years, then a Los Angeleno, and once again a Renoite—to help build a hip, urban marketplace in downtown Reno. Enter the Basement, a new community space that has taken over the basement of the former Reno Main Post Office building, at 50 S. Virginia St.

It’s a large Art Deco building, unmissable to locals and travelers walking or passing through downtown. Opened in 1933, the Post Office was designed by Frederic J. DeLongchamps, a notable Nevadan architect. Many of DeLongchamps’s buildings, including the Post Office, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building was purchased in 2012 by the Carter brothers, Bernie and Tim, of Carter Bros. Ace Hardware. The plan was to use the one time federal building for a community purpose. The basement was once raw and unfinished, and now has a more polished, but still industrial, vibe. Bullentini, the lead designer for the Basement and Post Office building, pitched her concept for a marketplace to Bernie in late 2014. A year and a half later, the project is in full swing.

“We were designing upstairs, and it kind of molded into down here where we have a lot of potential in the basement that was kind of undiscovered,” says Bullentini. “It wasn’t planned to be anything but storage.”

Bullentini studied at Parsons School of Design in New York and has worked for design and architecture projects in other cities. The Basement, and her cold-pressed juice bar, Rawbry, brought her back to Reno.

“As a designer, you see things in the most undiscovered places,” she says. “I have seen marketplaces take off in other cities and thought that I could do it justice here since everyone is starting to move downtown and there’s this influx of urban living for our age group downtown.”

To get permission to turn a federal building into the marketplace she envisioned, she had to present her idea to the City of Reno. The idea was approved since the concept of the Basement aids in making downtown Reno vibrant for locals and tourists.

“Originally, we couldn’t get a liquor license down here, we weren’t allowed to have food down here, we weren’t allowed to have late hours down here,” says Bullentini. “It was a federal building, which meant it could only be used for federal use, like a library or something. So it really took [the city] being progressive and being really awesome and saying, ’This could be really conducive to a great young town atmosphere.’ From there, they worked with us. So we had to figure out sewage. We had to figure out a liquor license building-wide. We had to move a lot of things around. That took forever. It was a lot more than just going into a plug and play building. It had a lot to do because we were in the basement, and it’s a building from 1933, and there were a lot of hurdles.”

Much of the original building remains, but the Basement had to become a workable space for businesses like Rawbry. It also currently houses Global Coffee (a coffee bar), Sugar Love chocolates, Kalifornia Jean Bar, a barber shop (by barber Josh Arias), Botanicals Flower Bar, apparel company Tahoe Nevada Love, Pantry Products apothecary, and SES Engineering (which also did the mechanical and sustainable solutions for the building). A gym called Escape and a salad bar called Chomp will be open in the near future, as will a bar, art gallery space and lecture hall. One more business is being vetted for the space—a sneaker shop from Brooklyn. Other than that shop, all of the businesses originated in Reno, and the demand for shop space has been high.

“We turned away around three times the amount of businesses that are in the space,” says Bullentini. “I get an email every single day about putting a business in the Basement.”

In the main Post Office space, home decor company West Elm is going in as the anchor tenant.


The goods and services offered in the Basement are intended to create a healthy environment, where people can have fun, socialize and be stimulated without damaging their health.

“We want it to be this epicenter for social gatherings and not just for drinking, or health-harming activities,” says Bullentini. The walkability of downtown will help, too, once the Virginia Street bridge is completed.

The approach to creating a healthy atmosphere is threefold—physical, social and mental. The gym, and food and drink choices like Rawbry and Chomp address the physical. Social needs are met through a large open space for coworking, along with the coffee shop and bar. And every other month, the local chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts hosts a talk series called Creative Buzz, which is intended to stimulate the mind and encourage discussion.

“It’s something I went to in Brooklyn,” says Bullentini. In New York, the event was called “Creative Mornings.” “I know we have this crazy art community, it’s very Burner-driven. I just thought it needed to have a voice. And it’s different than the tech-art in Brooklyn.”

Some of the talks do bridge the worlds between technology and art, though, including a talk on April 12 featuring international futurologist Rebecca Ryan. The talk, which starts at 7:45 a.m., will cover urban planning and commerce based on trends of the future.

Bringing non-local people into the Basement to speak or get involved hasn’t been difficult, says Bullentini.

“Everybody and their mother is talking about Reno right now,” she says, referencing people she knows in the larger cities she’s lived in. “It’s super flattering and exciting that the word is spreading about Reno. It’s almost like you don’t want it to spread any more. Like, nobody else move here!”

She means this as a joke, but there’s some truth to it. Projects like the Basement are possible now because there’s a community of people who want more urban experiences, but it’s also possible because the concept hasn’t really been tackled successfully yet, which lets people like Bullentini experiment. So it’s the project, but not the city itself, that needs to convince outsiders to take a chance on it.

“That’s been the biggest shocker for me, is that you don’t have to sell Reno—you have to sell the concept, or the building,” says Bullentini. “I think Reno is in talks for everybody right now.”

Bullentini’s vision also ensures that new, unconventional businesses have a fighting chance in Reno.

“There’s a big emphasis on collaborative,” says Bullentini. “If we all went out and wanted to open our own businesses in separate buildings, it would have been a struggle. We all lean on each other. We all bring traffic together. At the end of the day we’re not just Rawbry. We’re not Global Coffee—we’re the Basement.” For more information, visit www.thebasementreno.com.