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Day 53 – Shelly’s Hardware

By ThisIsReno

Submitted by Karl Breckenridge

A score of years ago when I was writing a weekly column for a local paper, I conducted, as was my occasional wont, a contest, to come up with the oldest business in the valley with a name eponymous with the owner’s name (and immediately took Harrah’s Club and Harolds Club – no apostrophe – off the list – too obvious).

It went well for a couple weeks, and then went in a hand basket with readers coming up with BS entries, like Two Guys from Hong Kong and Jake from State Farm. The contest went down in defeat, as do most of my contests. I do remember a couple of righteous names it produced: Johnson Chevrolet and Dunseath Key.

And another frequent entry, and watch here for this don’t-try-this-at-home tool of the practiced writer to turn the gibberish of the last paragraphs into solid writing; a segue into this morning’s column: a drum roll, please, for Shelly’s Hardware on Greenbrae Drive.

Shelly’s gets top billing this morning because I did them a disservice a few days ago, and intimated that they were closed due to this current quarantine.

They’re not. Shelly’s is open for business. It’s my hardware store of choice; nice people, helpful, with an unbelievable inventory in such a small space. Open. Daily. Sorry, Shelly’s, for doing that to you.

The store was opened by Sparks icon Carl Shelly during WWII – there’s an argument for 1942, 1944 or 1945. I’ll go with the latter.

While I knew Carl as a child knows an adult (he was born the year Sparks became a city – 1905) I wish I had confirmed that his motivation for starting Shelly’s Hardware was that his buddy contractor George Probasco started building homes on the eastern edge of Sparks after WWII and selling them like hotcakes to returning vets under their GI Bill. Carl foresaw a need for their DIY urges in their new civilian lives.

Virginia Lake
The early days of Virginia Lake. Image: NDOT

He had served on the Washoe County Commission, which post-war was three members, about the right size for a county commission. As such he was a strong proponent for the construction of Virginia Lake.

He was a Sparks council member after that, later a State Assemblyman, and with his Sparks-born friend Tom Swart was instrumental in the perpetuation of the Nevada Historical Society after the war, and of the Sparks Heritage Museum, now one of the best in the state (the museum, no way the society). And Shelly later – 1950? – owned and published the Sparks Tribune.

All in all, a heck of a guy – if John Sparks as governor could get the town’s name changed from Harriman, Carl Shelly did enough for the little city that it could have had a subsequent name-change to Shellyville. Sorry, Michael Fischer for that impropriety…!

(My friend Mike, a retired dentist and U of N SAE alum, does an excellent Chautauqua presentation of Gov. John Sparks.)

And where did Carl Shelly open his store? Well, of course, in what would become the Greenbrae Shopping Center, the first in Sparks and hard by the Green Brae Airport. In fact driving by Shelly’s Hardware, the balloon roofs of two hangers are quite evident these 60 years later. It’s hard to believe that there was an airstrip in the present parking lot of the center, with a single 1,100-foot runway 08/26, 200-foot overruns and served by a Unicom radio.

I took my first plane ride at the Green Brae Airport as a 7-year-old seated in my dad’s lap in the front seat of a J-3 Cub (the pilot flew from the back seats of older Piper Cubs, Stearmans, Curtiss Jennys, deHavilland mail planes and the like, but you knew that).

This is Reno space flees, so I’ll wrap it up. My writing partner Jody Rice’s dad, Del Rice, a popular dude around the valley for many years, is having a rough go of it – nothing to do with COVID-19 – so if you know Del keep him in your thoughts.

And, should you need something in the hardware vein, drop by Shelly’s Hardware on Greenbrae and pick it up – they’re OPEN! But don’t tell them I sent you; they’ll probably surcharge you.

C’mon back tomorrow – the weather’s nice, Mary S. Doten Elementary is still closed so Hank Philcox, Don Hartman and I will probably take our bikes and y’all on another bike ride around our hamlet. But – ‘til again we meet, six feet apart, for heaven’s sake, be safe!

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

Karl Breckenridge

Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally. 

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