Sip ‘n’ stroll in downtown Reno

A Wine Walk on the Riverwalk is a great way to introduce yourself to the arts, culture and services in downtown Reno

Inside Dreamers Coffeehouse at the Riverside Artist Lofts.

Inside Dreamers Coffeehouse at the Riverside Artist Lofts.

Photo By Adrienne Rice

The Riverwalk Merchants Association’s Wine Walk on the Riverwalk is held the third Saturday of every month from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Visit any participating store to receive a free map and enter the monthly raffle. For more information, call La Bussola at 348-8858 or River Gallery at 329-3698.

Sydney Sukuta came to America from Zimbabwe to finish college, earning his Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1999 at the University of Nevada, Reno. But science isn’t Sukuta’s only passion. With his wife, Sandra Adams, Sukuta opened Bantu Spirit, a small shop that sells art, clothing and other items from his native country.

“I’ve always enjoyed art, and that was something we can share with the whole world,” Sukuta says. “I didn’t find too many outlets here to expose the art from back home and also to share our culture with the local people. So this is a great opportunity.”

Having opened their store on April 1 in the Riverside Artist Lofts building at 17 S. Virginia St., Sukuta and Adams are the most recent merchants to set up shop in Reno’s Riverwalk area. Along with Metro Salon, Rad Betty’s thrift store and other locally owned businesses, Bantu Spirit could have been easily overlooked as more consumers defect to big-box mega-stores on the edges of town.

But along First Street and the surrounding area, the Riverwalk Merchants Association is striving to draw lovers of art and culture to the downtown core, and at least one of the group’s efforts is paying dividends: the Wine Walk on the Riverwalk, an afternoon of shopping, wine-tasting and having an all-around good time.

“We have gotten quite a bit of customers related to the Wine Walk,” Adams says. “We are on the map, and people have been looking for us.”

A view from La Bussola.

Photo By Adrienne Rice

When I arrive at the River Gallery around 3 p.m., co-owner Ann Fullerton is chatting near the front of the store. Her partner, Pam Bobay, is in the back passing out tiny plastic cups of Latchum Vineyards’ Sierra Foothills Goldrush Red. Nearby, chef Scott Robert Harvey hands out samples of mouth-watering garlic bread and oily dipping sauces. Amidst the modern paintings and sculptures, patrons are happily munching, sipping, talking and laughing. This friendly atmosphere is what Bobay looks forward to every third Saturday of the month when the Wine Walk is held.

“The idea is to get out and enjoy Reno and let us know what you’re thinking, too,” Bobay says. “There’s a lot of exchange of ideas. Most people seem very pleased. Even if they don’t drink the wine, they like the event. And the thing that I like is the energy. You hear laughter, and you share.”

Indeed, the Riverwalk area is bursting with activity during the May 18 Wine Walk, despite the windy, muggy weather. A decent-sized crowd lines up for movie tickets in the Century Riverside 12 lobby. Dog-walkers march along Island Avenue, while more stroll through the plaza next to Java Jungle. Everywhere I look, people carry colorful Wine Walk maps and shopping bags.

Kelli Nicolato, president of the Riverwalk Merchants Association and owner of eclectic retail shop La Bussola with her husband, Giorgio, says participation in the Wine Walk has grown to between 200 and 400 people each month.

“We get tourists. We get locals who come almost to every single Wine Walk,” Nicolato says. “We get people who are just popping out of a movie and see all these people down here and say, ‘What’s going on? Why does everybody have wine?’ So it’s kind of a fun find.”

Bobay says many Wine Walk participants are now turning the event into a daylong trip.

Co-owners Pam Bobay and Ann Fullerton serve wine at the River Gallery.

Photo By Adrienne Rice

“We’ve seen the Wine Walk go from a narrow venue, where people were just coming down for the Wine Walk. Now people come down and combine a movie,” she says. “So here’s a double-header, and we get the restaurants next year. People can come down … shop, dine—[or see a] movie, live theater.

“It’s wonderful, and by golly, we Renoites, we deserve it!”

Of course, the Wine Walk is usually a good business day for the downtown merchants as well, Bobay says. Nicolato says that, while retail shops see the most obvious gain from the event, shops that provide services, such as Metro Salon, gain important name recognition.

“For a new store like that, it’s just a great way to get people to even know you exist, and [Metro owner Annette Cortezzo] can hand out her menu of her services,” Nicolato says. “It’s such a beautiful shop once you get inside of it. People are happy to find it. … Even if you’re part of the association, you don’t have to do the Wine Walks. But I think we have 18 merchants on this Wine Walk, so everybody wants to.”

And while the Wine Walk certainly generates interest and revenue for the participating merchants, Nicolato emphasizes that the event isn’t all about cash. She says that many times the Riverwalk Merchants Association tries to tie in a charity event with the walk. A recent fund-raiser for the SPCA called “Art Goes to Dogs,” during which cat- and dog-themed art was auctioned, netted the animal organization over $2,000. The Wine Walk also promotes a sense of community, she says.

“It’s just a way to unite the neighborhood,” Nicolato says. “We, really, as the merchants, not only are working to promote the neighborhood and everything, but we solve a lot of problems, like police issue problems, homelessness problems, cleanliness problems. June 1 we’re having a Riverwalk cleanup, and we’re all planting flowers in planters and having a big party.

“It’s not just about making the money. It’s about improving the area too."