As you descend the winding stairs into The Basement of the former U.S. Post Office at 50 S. Virginia St., you feel a sense of mystery and expectation.
Reaching the landing, you spy a community of unique shops, eateries and design elements that live happily together while wrapped in the architecture of one of Reno’s landmark buildings.
“Maintenance of this building is my first objective,” said Bernie Carter, a Midtown developer who purchased the building with his two brothers and a partner in 2012. “This building means history to me. My dream is that future generations can see it.”
Carter also is focused on supporting and encouraging the 11 small businesses that inhabit the space.
“I want to support mom-and-pop small businesses and their dreams. They are the backbone of America,” Carter said.
The Basement, as of this writing, is fully occupied for the first time since the pandemic hit in 2020.
Carter encourages customers to shop local, rather than patronizing big retail brands. “I want this to be an economic driver for the downtown core,” he said.
To build a community spirit, Carter holds monthly meetings to inform tenants of new developments and marketing plans and to promote networking among the shop owners.
The Third Thursday in The Basement series of events began in September and highlights local artists on a revolving basis. The event features live entertainment, “meet the maker” demonstrations and special sales promotions.
“We support each other,” said Jackie Lopey, a Reno native and interior designer specializing in bathroom and kitchen design. “As a sole proprietor, you can be really lonely. I feel really safe here; my neighbors are around all the time. In this place, we support each other, refer customers to each other, and we act as a sounding board.”
Lopey has grown her Wide Canvas kitchen and bath business within the walls of the old post office. She opened her shop in The Basement’s original IRS vault when she relocated there a few years ago. She now has five employees.
“When I moved back to Reno, I had no clientele, no contacts,” she said. “(The Basement) has worked out so beautifully. There’s walk-in traffic that leads to business.”
Lopey strives to offer materials that shoppers won’t see in other places. She gets excited when patrons say, “I’ve never seen that before,” when viewing items such as a black faucet with contrast crosshatching. Unique wares go nicely with the historic venue, which is an asset for the tenants, she said.
A stately structure
The historic building is an asset for the tenants, she said. The old Reno Post Office, designed by Reno architect Frederic J. DeLongchamps, opened in 1934. DeLongchamps is among Nevada’s premier architects; he also designed nine county courthouses, major additions to the Nevada State Capitol, mansions for the Mapes family and George Whittell, and more than 500 other buildings. The art deco building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
Design features include terra cotta as a building material for the outer layer, which is incised to resemble quarried stone. Walls are paneled in black Georgia marble, which complements the terrazzo floors and the distinctive medallions and moldings.
Carter has commissioned exact replicas of signs and marquees in cast aluminum from artisans who practice a craft that is no longer common. Customers enjoy the stately atmosphere, he said. When they enter The Basement, they are relaxed, curious and ready to explore, he said.
“It should be an adventure and fun to hire an interior designer,” Carter said. “The atmosphere sets a tone for my clients. People want to see and touch what’s going into their bathroom.”
Jennifer Fasullo owns Shay Co. Shop, which offers personalized gifts and clothing for babies and children. Customers she attracted online and in pop-up events around town have come to The Basement seeking her out in her new physical location.
Her shop is popular with baby shower organizers and people looking for gifts for newborn babies. “There’s nothing else in Reno like it, a specific kids’ boutique,” she said. “It is the new hot spot.”
Third Thursdays events
Fasullo welcomes the Third Thursday in The Basement events from 4 to 6 p.m. At the Oct. 20 gathering, she offered a rack of special sales. At the next Third Thursday event Nov. 17, she plans to host a “meet the maker” demonstration of embroidery on clothing, baby blankets and stuffed animals.
The collaborative atmosphere resonates with Fasullo. “We all get along together, and I send customers to the coffee shop and the Replenish Refillery,” she said.
The Freshies restaurant, owned by Jake Rotchstein, is located in the common area of tables and chairs; store owners and their customers often congregate there. The menu includes fresh salads, bowls and sandwiches. Chickadee Ridge, a hot sandwich with Mediterranean flavor, is made with roasted chicken, goat cheese, olives, arugula and tomatoes on house-baked focaccia.
“Everything is made from scratch,” Rotchstein said. The menu items are named for Sierra ski runs and locales at the area’s ski resorts.
The Basement also offers local artists wall space for art displays and sales, with no entry fees and no commissions taken. Display space is available for up to three artists at a time on a first-come, first-served basis. RN&R photo editor David Robert has an exhibition of surrealistic images on the walls this month; artist Kim Paulsen displays abstract, impressionistic works on a wall next to Freshies restaurant.
“There is no middleman; you speak directly to the artist,” Paulsen said.
Since her show has been up, she has sold a painting each week. “It’s a nice venue for an artist,” she said. “… It’s great that the building is still here, only recycled. We need to keep history alive and not allow urban decay.”
She also values the creative community of businesses and customers: “You could spend all day here just relaxing, enjoying the textures. It’s attractive visually.”
The area has lots of nearby metered parking, and the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway is accessible on the north side of the building. The facility is dog-friendly.
Brooke Brumfield of Fior Partners, who frequently commutes from Verdi to Reno on her bicycle, sees The Basement as “the living room of downtown.
“It’s comfortable and warm, a great place to come after work for a snack or drink and a look around,” she said.
Other businesses in the space include: Beautiful Bearded Man barber shop; Maple Moon Coffee Company; The Helping Moon Crystal Shop; Craft Spirits and Food; Wide Canvas Kitchen and Bath Design; BBM Nail Lounge; Refresh Refillery and Gifts; Mo, Jo & Zoe, women’s clothing; and the Golden Owl Bookshop, which has children’s story times
The development of The Basement shop and restaurant area, as well as office rental space on upper floors, is designated as adaptive re-use of the historic building. At present, the second floor, encompassing 12,500 square feet of renovated office space, is available for lease. Details: Bernie Carter for information about office space at firstname.lastname@example.org or (775) 771-0334.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to fix Bernie Carter’s name, and to correct the name of Maple Moon Coffee Company.