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Beneath the old post office there’s a lot going on

By Nora Tarte

The Basement is a place quite unlike any other in Reno. A hybrid of services, food stops and retail stores, it’s home to a collection of locals’ business pursuits housed in an historic building—the former post office on South Virginia Street downtown next to the Truckee River.

Bernie Carter, his two brothers Tim and Rick Carter, and the estate of their late business partner TJ Day, all purchased the building back in 2012. By 2013, it was up and running with its first tenant—a barbershop that is still there today. 

“That was the concept behind The Basement—to develop a spot for small mom and pop businesses [in Reno],” Bernie says. It was modeled off of the Chelsea Market in New York City, another basement space home to small retail shops and food vendors.

For many, The Basement makes getting started easier. Bernie says most of their tenants are small, local makers with a dream. There are 11 spaces available downstairs, 10 of which are occupied. They range in size from 300 square feet to 1,300 square feet. The small spaces allow many to open a shop affordably with hopes of growing it later. 

Another perk is the one-year lease terms. Bernie says they do this so young businesses don’t have to commit to three to five years in the same location. In a lot of ways, it’s worked out. 

Bernie details Nordic, a shop selling Scandinavian products. While housed in The Basement, online business blew up, and Nordic quickly outgrew the space. 

“We want [tenants] to be successful as a business,” he says. Most leave because they grow too big.

Other tenants of The Basement include Seven Troughs Speakeasy, an arm of the Distilling Company of the same name based in Sparks; a sandwich shop named Freshies; a skincare store dubbed Replenish; Mo, Jo, and Zoe from Truckee; and the kid’s clothing store Shay Co. 

The original barbershop, Beautiful Bearded Men, is still there and has expanded to a manicure/pedicure shop, as well, that makes sure not to buck male clientele. Those looking for false lashes, will find a business for those here, too.

Seven Troughs Speakeasy is tucked into The Basement, the underground level of the old U.S. Post Office in downtown Reno. Image: 4JOY Media

While the space certainly doesn’t operate as it used to—it’s rumored that one area below the main post office was used as a vault for the FBI to store seized items including alcohol during Prohibition—Bernie and his brothers made sure to keep the integrity of the historic building alive. 

It took about a year to get an approved development plan and they used the original blueprints to make it, including bringing back the skylight and landscaping that was once present.

Since 2013, The Basement has only grown, and while it’s the first business of its kind in Reno, it’s not the brothers’ first rodeo. Previously, under a different entity (701 South Virginia LLC), the group helped develop the Midtown area. 

“At one time in Midtown we had over 30 small tenants,” Bernie says. Among those were St. Lawrence Commons, Ace Tattoo, SÜP and Carter Bros Ace Hardware—all local outposts with no national presence, just like The Basement.

Upstairs, in the old post office itself, West Elm took up the entire main floor up until a couple of months ago. The area is being rehabbed for a new tenant, but no one is signed up yet. The goal is to bring another national retailer into that space to accompany Patagonia. Bernie says the presence of national shops on the ground level helps to encourage and bring commercial enterprises back into downtown reno.

Above that, a collection of small businesses rent out office spaces, including Burning Man.

A community space in The Basement in downtown Reno, Nev. Image: 4JOY Media

The Basement has also become somewhat of a community space. Not only are the tenants close, like family, according to Bernie, but they also are allowed to host after-hours events in the common area. 

Sometimes, The Basement has its own sanctioned events, including a woman with a mobile bookstore who hosts monthly get togethers for kids. But mostly it’s the tenants bringing in local groups to put on plays and other performances. 

The Basement has strict hours of operation, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., to ward off vandalism and negative attention, but these events can operate outside those hours with the right permissions and the guarantee of hired security.

While bringing in events isn’t under Bernie’s job umbrella, he and his team did make efforts to incorporate art into the space. There are three TVs on the wall in The Basement that rotate through the old masters including Van Gough and Da Vinci, with over 1,000 images in all. 

“You have continual change,” Bernie says. There’s another that plays shots of Earth from satellites.

There’s also an art wall that is currently showing off Burning Man artwork and a history wall that details the building’s past.

“We think that’s a real positive to bring that kind of energy to the downtown core,” Bernie says of the space and its tenants. “I don’t think there’s anything similar [in] Reno.”

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