We went to the downtown movie theater to see Return of the Conquest from Beneath the Escape of the War for the Planet of the Apes. When we came out just after 3 p.m., First and Sierra was an argument that downtown is experiencing a revival—big crowds of people in the streets, restaurants and shops. Unfortunately, a vehicle with the license plate BILYBLU felt the nice day was not complete without his music turned up loud. It vibrated through the downtown while he waited for the light to change, and, by the time we were a block away, it still slammed our ears. When did parents and schools stop teaching courtesy?
We reached Virginia Street and began looking for casino restaurants. At one point, walking along the west side of Virginia between Second and Commercial, we encountered a crowd of folks who appeared down and out. They surrounded a fellow shouting “Fuck you” at some unseen person down the street at the top of his considerable voice. There was a police car nearby in the street, but no officer on the sidewalk nearby.
The casinos reduced their number of restaurants as gambling faded as a Reno attraction in the face of California tribal gambling. One restaurant had a waiting list. Another—Millie’s 24—had a hostess who was less than courteous herself and then disappeared. We left and headed back down Virginia. At the Reno Arch, we saw bicycle police officers checking identifications on people who lingered there. The downtown casinos, whose lobbyists keep gambling taxes low at the Nevada Legislature, have arranged for their own small downtown tax district where they pay more taxes, and in return they get more police protection than the rest of Reno. Some of the officers are on bicycles.
As we checked restaurants, they seemed to swing from simple grills to restaurants with unrealistically high prices, nothing in between. We decided to leave the downtown for Archie’s at the north end of the university campus. At Second and Virginia, a talking pedestrian audio device yelled at us almost as loud as BILYBLU. On our way, we crossed back from Virginia to Sierra and the climate changed back. BILYBLU was gone and the area was still filled with comfortable, happy people. The contrast from Virginia to Sierra was striking. Locals flock to Sierra. Virginia? Not so much.
For two decades, we have argued that it is a mistake for city officials to follow the lead of casino marketers in how to promote the downtown—or anywhere else. Tailor all efforts to the locals, we argued. If the locals like the quality of life, so will tourists. But we never expected it to be demonstrated so clearly on parallel streets.
To be sure, the downtown movie theaters should never have been built. After the Patterson’s building was demolished, opening up that property and the river, the public loved it and made clear it wanted it to stay that way, plus some grass, trees and picnic tables. An ice rink was placed there for a time. But city leaders were insistent on the theaters, and they have drawn people to the area. The crowds of locals from Court to Second streets on Sierra attest to it, and to the wisdom of making Reno for Renoites.