Off center

In Sparks, a declining shopping area faces a setback

At Big O Tires, the owner says he gets business because of the presence of courtrooms in Greenbrae Shopping Center.

At Big O Tires, the owner says he gets business because of the presence of courtrooms in Greenbrae Shopping Center.


At the west end of the Greenbrae Shopping Center, folks are unloading toys for a holiday toy drive. At the east end, drivers are pumping gas. In between are a wide variety of storefronts—a computer repair shop, Laundromat, convenience store, thrift store, sub shop, barber shop.

Right in the middle, surrounded by all these avenues of commerce, is a court—the Sparks office of Washoe County Justice Court. For nearly two decades, the court has been a mainstay of the shopping center off Pyramid Way.

When it opened in 1957 on the former site of an airfield, Greenbrae was the pride of Rail City commerce, luring customers to its stores. It has long since had difficulties, along with other early shopping centers in Reno like Sterling and Village. There is nothing like a grocery or department store to serve as an anchor.

But Greenbrae has hung in surprisingly well. Besides the stores already named, there is a tribal smoke shop, pet supply store, Mexican restaurant, hair salon, trophy store, the inevitable liquor store and a church. But Greenbrae is certainly suffering from the recession. A shirt laundry, Burke’s Drugs and a Ben Franklin Crafts are dark. Even the Justice Court has felt the recession. In July, it went to a 4 day a week, 9 hours a day schedule.

Soon, unless the Washoe County Commission changes its collective mind, the court will also go dark. The commission voted on Dec. 13 to move the court to East Prater Way between Sparks and Vista boulevards, near the police department.

The owner of Greenbrae and some of its merchants are seeking to reverse the commission vote, with the store owners arguing that they will lose business if the court departs. There is no unanimity on that count, however.

At the Greenbrae Cleaners, Carlos Castillo said when he heard about the change, “I didn’t really know what to think. I’m really not sure how big a part they have in our patronage and use of the shop. … A couple of our clients are employees of theirs [the court’s] but as far as otherwise, foot traffic that we would get, I just don’t see how we would be affected.”

He said his mother attended a county commission meeting regarding the move, and she found that few of the other store owners attended.

Shelly’s Hardware is the oldest surviving business at Greenbrae, bearing a familiar commercial and family name in Sparks (the Shelly family once owned the Sparks Tribune, and Carl Shelly was a state legislator). There, Bob Falkenthal says the court provides him with business: “They bring in some business to us, for sure. Our sign and our store is exposed to more people just by driving through the parking lost.”

Falkenthal said he is “disappointed” by the move but said it was not unexpected.

“I’ve known it’s been in the works for the last year and a half, so it’s not a surprise,” he said.

But though he will lose business when the court leaves, he is not trying to do anything about it. He seems resigned to the immovability of the commission.

J.J. Shaney owns Big O Tires on the southwest corner of the shopping center and regrets the decision to move the court, but is fatalistic about it.

“I don’t want to see them go because there’s a lot of good customers over there. But I think they’ve been talking about moving out of there for three or four years. It’s a little antiquated over there.”

One store, the Flower Garden, is tucked away at one of the least visible locations at Greenbrae, next to the court. Nevertheless, the florist shop has hung in for 26 years. The owner, Richard Cancimilla, says his store is not helped at all by the presence of the court next door. When folks go to court, buying flowers is not generally on their mind.

“Not at all,” he said. “No. It’s not going to affect us one way or the other because the traffic that goes into that particular unit, when they come out they’re either despondent or they just got busted for a fine or something.”

Landlord’s offer

The idea behind moving the court to Prater Way is to have a location that is easier to protect. Though there have been no major incidents at the court, some officials have long been nervous about the current site. In domestic cases, which produce nearly all courtoom violence, one official said there are not separate waiting areas for opposing sides.

A recent arraignment at the court in the Nugget/Hell’s Angels murder case reinforced that concern, though it was handled without difficulty. One armed officer was placed on the roof of Falkenthal’s hardware store.

Assemblymember Richard Daly, who represents the area in the legislature, says those kind of hazards are relatively rare, and the owner of the shopping center has offered to accommodate those concerns by helping pay for remodeling to make the building more easily secured and protected.

“The landlord has offered to assist in making those changes,” he said. “The county will still have to spend some money, but it will get more square footage at a lower price and will help that shopping center to remain viable. That would certainly be less expensive than the three to four million dollars they will have to spend on remodeling the new building across from the police department.”

Daly said he’s not sure the county commission is open to reversing itself on the issue, but he still believes the public is entitled to a fuller process than was provided on the issue.

“They should have had a public hearing instead of ramming things through,” he said.

That might help the commission as well as provide some satisfaction to the public, he suggested, because the county commissioners themselves would be more fully informed on what the landlord is offering.