The fourth coming

New directions on an old street

Brandon Wright stands in front of his distilling equipment at The Depot.

Brandon Wright stands in front of his distilling equipment at The Depot.

Photo//Matt Bieker

The Brewery District will hold a Celebration on the Corridor, Dec. 8 from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The idea of portioning Reno into separate “districts” is not new. The idea has been bandied about between the city government and various shadowy developers for years, with mixed success. The branding of midtown has been the most successful, but there has also been talk of the fountain district, the Tessera district, West 2nd district—all meant to capitalize on the individual neighborhoods’ distinct—or sometimes contrived—identities.

But East Fourth Street, the three-mile stretch of asphalt between downtown Reno and Sparks, has struggled to rebuild its own illustrious past as a major transit hub and business magnet for the past two decades. Now, as the number of breweries and bars in the area has swelled in the past five years, a new coalition of business owners has decided to take an active role in determining the future of their neighborhood by establishing it as the Brewery District.

“In the ’90s, if you told us we were going to be working on Fourth Street when we were growing up, we would have been a bit concerned given the reputation that we all had of Fourth Street,” said Will Truce, co-owner of the planned Black Rabbit Meads and one of the lead instigators of the Brewery District Business Coalition. “But, then again, when you drive down here with your eyes and mind and heart wide open, you can see the incredible architecture that’s also pretty unique for Reno as well.”

Truce and his partner, Jake Conway, have been making home-brewed mead, an alcoholic drink made from fermented honey, for the past several years. After leaving their jobs as teachers at South Carson High School last year, they decided to pursue their dreams of opening a meadery and tasting room.

“We had been thinking about this area before, if not dreaming about it a little bit, because of the growth of the breweries around here … and also just how much space that you could have in a building as well,” Truce said.

Truce and Conway are in the process of building out their space between The Depot and Lead Dog Brewing Company. They believe the combination of a historic pedigree, proximity to downtown and relatively low price point for larger facilities tick all the boxes on a prospective brewer’s checklist.

“You pretty much need 5,000 square feet, for our understanding, to have a, you know, a good production facility and a tap room to really get off the ground,” Truce said.

The Brewery District Business Coalition started in earnest in September, when, during one of their weekly meetings, the dozen-plus members put the name to a vote. The name, Truce said, pays homage to Fourth Street’s past, specifically the old Reno Brewing Company, established in 1903, while not excluding other types of business.

“Even the folks that have nothing to do with brewing beer themselves were enthusiastic about it because a brewery district says so much more than just the fact that people brew there,” Truce said. “There’s a culture of brewing, right? There’s an industrialness that’s to it. There’s the craftiness to it. There is a sense of historic Americana to it. There’s a sense of localness to it, you know. All of these things transcend the actual brewing of alcohol.”

In establishing that new identity for the area, Truce said they modeled their efforts after the success of the midtown businesses coalition, and received input from, among others, Jessica Schneider, owner of Junkee Clothing Exchange. They have created a website and social media presence to promote the included businesses, something Truce believes will create a unified messaging platform.

“Someone that’s going to Nevada Sunset Winery versus, let’s say, Davidson’s Distillery might be a bit of a different demographic, and yet, through the website and social media advertising them all, they’re now hitting those other demographics that they wouldn’t necessarily be doing,” Truce said. “But there’s also just a wonderful camaraderie that comes with being part of a business organization in which you can help each other out.”

Love thy neighbor

That camaraderie makes sense to a degree, but too much cross-promotion could be considered counterproductive to businesses that are essentially rivals, selling similar products to a limited clientele. There are currently at least 13 breweries in Reno alone, each vying for their space in the craft beer boom. But Bryan Holloway, co-owner and brew master at Pigeonhead Brewery on Fifth Street, says that craft beer drinkers are far from loyal—at least in their neighborhood.

“It’s probably, like, maybe five percent of our customers or people that just come to our tap room,” Holloway said. “They don’t just sit at one [brewery] and drink for all afternoon, or whatever they’re doing, you know. They like to go to three or four or five or whatever, whatever’s in that area, and hit all of them.”

The general consensus between brewers east of Center Street, Holloway said, is that a greater concentration of breweries in one place encourages patrons to make the rounds instead of picking favorites. Plus, said Holloway, the brewers’ individual specialties are varied enough to keep things interesting for even regular craft consumers.

“Oh, we all do different things,” Holloway said. “Like, we’re known for our lagers here, you know. Lead Dog does hazy IPA, and The Depot has their own niche in the market with the restaurant and everything, too. So we’re all a little different.”

But even with a willing clientele, it’s worth asking if it’s sustainable to peg Fourth Street’s future to the craft alcohol market. A bevvy of articles like the Washington Post’s “The craft beer industry’s buzz is wearing off” have been published this year, bemoaning craft beer’s slowing national market trends. But Brandon Wright, partner and head brewer at The Depot, said there’s been no sign of stalled sales in Reno. In fact, he needs more room for the future.

“Our brewery’s expanding considerably,” Wright said. “So, we are in the process of building a brewery that’s five times the size of what we’ve got now—literally in our parking lot over here.”

After two years of contract brewing for Battle Born Beer Company, The Depot is planning a standalone expansion to its brewery facility to brew both its own house recipes as well as Battle Born’s. Wright hopes to have the project completed by summer of 2019.

“That should not only expand our brewing capacity substantially, but the distilling operation, we’ll also be able to step up,” Wright said. “We’re typically doing four or five runs of whiskey a week, we’ll start doing 12 runs of whiskey.”

If the future of craft brewing is a sturdy foundation for the Brewery District, the biggest potential roadblock to Fourth Street’s revitalization might come from an inability to shake its sordid reputation.

“I went to school at the world brewing academy that splits its time between Chicago and Munich, Germany,” Wright said. “My nickname in brewing school was ’Fourth Street,’ because the only thing that my American friends and colleagues in brewing school knew about Reno is, like, ’Don’t go on Fourth Street.’”

Bad rep

Mike Steedman is a long-time resident of Fourth Street and currently runs Nevada Sunset Winery with his partner, Alynn Delisle. Steedman has seen several revitalization efforts come and go over the past few years, each one petering out due to either a lack of cooperation, or active disruption from the city. And the Volunteers of America shelter on Record Street has long put Fourth Street’s bar patrons in close proximity to Reno’s homeless population.

“With the Reno Sparks Business Corridor Association, Mayor Cashell swore that he would never put in the homeless shelter in downtown,” Steedman said. “And there was a lot more businesses here. Now it’s coming back around, and they put it down here against all the advice of everybody.”

While Steedman and Delisle, and most of the other business owners interviewed for this story, said they have never felt unsafe in their properties, and their interactions with homeless citizens have rarely been confrontational, the presence of the shelter might contribute to the perception that Fourth Street is dangerous. Steedman believes that moving the shelter farther from downtown’s associated vices would benefit not only the burgeoning Brewery District, but the homeless as well.

Photo//Matt Bieker

“You’ve got to move them out of the environment because you’re not helping them find solutions [to problems] that nobody really wants to address as far the mentally ill,” Steedman said.

Noah Silverman is one of the co-founders of the Reno Bike Project, another long-time fixture of East Fourth Street. It left it’s location last November for a new space on Grove Street but came back to a new location on East Fourth Street this past June.

In 2014, Silverman also had a hand in an attempted revitalization event called “Positively Fourth Street.” The event focused on bringing a community-oriented vision to the neighborhood, instead of the more business-minded approach of the Brewery District.

“We constructed a temporary bike lane,” Silverman said. “We had a little farmers’ market. We had a pop-up record shop. We had, like, kids’ activities in an alley and live music.”

The event proved too labor intensive to replicate without more businesses to participate at the time, but Silverman also agrees that the homeless shelter remains Fourth Street’s biggest hurdle.

“I personally don’t think the challenges are going to go away unless the homeless shelter moves,” Silverman said. “And we’re an organization that serves that population. But the challenges, like our staff having to deal with people with mental illness or … people breaking in and stealing shit. Even now with our new spot, it’s still just consistent and constant.”

While the city grapples with the issues of finding more space and services for the homeless, the Regional Transit Commission (RTC) hopes the recent completion of the $58 million Fourth Street/Prater Way Bus RAPID Transit Project can offer some solutions.

“The addition of a new rapid line on this corridor was important to get residents who live along the corridor to have more access to education and job opportunities,” said Michael Moreno, Public Information Officer for the RTC. “The residents of the homeless shelters don’t have means of transportation. So, many of them do use public transportation. They’re familiar with the bus routes and schedules so that they can get to where they need to go. We work closely with the Volunteers of America and Catholic Charities … so that we can meet those needs as best as we can.”

Moreno was also present in some of the Brewery District’s public meetings in order to allay the concerns of business owners who had to weather almost two years of construction that deterred patrons since the transit project’s inception. The Brewery District, in conjunction with the RTC, is planning the Celebration on the Corridor event on Dec. 8 to officially mark its completion, and the inclusion of the new Lincoln Line (named for Fourth Street’s historic designation as The Lincoln Highway).

“The Lincoln line in is a new bus rapid transit service that we are debuting on Dec. 14, which will span the corridor from RTC Fourth Street stations into downtown Sparks at RTC Centennial Plaza,” Moreno said.

Long distance

With talk of opening a new women’s and family shelter on Glendale Avenue in Sparks, the Lincoln Line could theoretically provide a link between new housing and the services on Fourth Street that the homeless community depends on. But some of the city’s homeless residents say that added distance does more harm than good.

“How many homeless people have money to get on the bus?” said Emily Garcia, who has been homeless with her partner Adam Reinhardt, a combat veteran, for the past two years. “We’d have to go a couple miles from all the way over there to here by 11:30 to eat lunch at all. So, it’s going to be harder for people if they’re, like, seven miles down the street to get to a library or get something to eat.”

While the proposed new Glendale location would include an on-site kitchen, which Garcia said would help, decreasing the proximity to downtown jobs or library services would also be counterproductive.

“There’s going to be more homeless because they’re like, ’Well, I’m not going to walk this far and try to make it to work on time,’” Garcia said. “You’re late a couple times, you’re going to get fired anyway.”

Fourth Street’s new ADA-compliant sidewalks are meant to increase foot traffic, but they’re also less than helpful “when you’re going to get a $500 ticket for sitting on the sidewalk,” according to Reinhardt.

They also regard the name “The Brewery District” with a certain irony.

“Open container ticket, $123,” said Reinhardt.

And as far as separating the women’s and men’s shelters, a position VOA Director Pat Cashell has advocated for in the past, to Reinhardt and Garcia, it’s out of the question.

“I’m not going to leave her by herself,” Reinhardt said. “I’m going to take care of her.”

“Totally,” agreed Garcia. “And even still, like if it was a men’s shelter over here and a women’s shelter over there. Well, I’m still going to sleep outside because I want to wake up with my dude. I’m not going to have to search for him every day.”

Even as the new businesses clash with unresolved problems on East Fourth Street, the Brewery District is gaining more and more members. Piper Stremmel, who grew up in Reno but spent the last 20 years abroad and in the Bay Area, moved back to town last year and took over the lease on the old Lincoln Lounge building, which was sold earlier this year. She knew it was the right property for her new hotel, The Jesse.

“I’m wanting it to feel very historical,” Stremmel said. “The name of Jesse came from Jesse Lee Reno. I’m trying play up on the city and the area and sort of embrace it more than get away from it.”

The property will house about six king-sized rooms with a bar on the ground level that guests will check in at, much like the motor lodges and boarding houses of Fourth Street’s heyday. Stremmel said the authenticity of the neighborhood attracted her to the area.

“I had wanted to be on Fourth Street,” she said. “I wasn’t holding out for it necessarily. I love the industrial vibe Fourth Street has. I’m really interested in, sort of, industrial parts of town.”

Stremmel said she isn’t bothered by the presence of the homeless shelter, although she could see how it could be a problem for some of her future guests. She said she was also unaware of the Brewery District Business Coalition before she found the property, but she’s excited to have the breweries as her neighbors and get involved herself.

And while she doesn’t have a completion date on the Jesse yet, her biggest hope for the future of Fourth Street is that things just stay the same.

“I guess I hope we don’t start tearing down the old last remaining buildings in favor of new builds along that street,” she said. “I sort of hope that the buildings that have been there and remained there, sort of remain in their original form.”