Climbing out of a recession


The micro economy is much more interesting than the macro economy; it is more interesting because it is personal and observable.  Macroeconomics is the economics of big stuff, national economies, world wide industries and the “world economy.” Try looking at one of those things, walk down on your lunch and watch the customers come and go  in the auto industry, the Greek economy or international banking – just not possible.  It may be a real thing, but not a touchable, concrete one – the macro economy is an abstraction.  The micro economy on the other hand is what is happening in your town, it is what you see when you shop for groceries, clothes or go to the movies, when you drive your car and drink a cup of coffee with a friend in a coffee shop.   That is the economy I have been wandering around in the last few days; last night I found something new to watch – indoor climbing walls (and an exterior one, but no one was climbing outside when I was there) mixed with dancing, eating and crowd watching.

The place is called CommRow – named after the first business street in Reno, Commercial Row – it runs parallel to the railroad tracks and was once the home of all of the major business in Reno – but that was a hundred years ago.  Since then Commercial Row was replaced by Virginia Street it has been a minor street without much in the way of commercial traffic.  The new business is the most significant new business on Commercial Row in a long, long time.  CommRow is a mufti-use urban adventure experience place with a few restaurants and a couple of dance clubs thrown in for good measure.

The building is a converted hotel casino which has been closed for 3 years.   It opened in 1976 as Fitzgerald’s Hotel-Casino.  Fitzgeralds was named after it original owner, Lincoln Fitzgerald, who according to local lore was a gambler and mobster from Detroit – the Purple gang.  He moved west to Reno and opened a small casino in 1945; he was a very frugal man, he managed his pennies carefully and saved any one he did not have to spend; he used that horde of cash to build a new hotel in 1976.  Fitzgerald died just a few years later and in the 1980s his wife eventually sold it.  The property has had a series of owners since, none was able to over come the challenges of the Reno market or at times a building built by an old and very frugal man.

So here we are in 2011 and now the former-casino – all three floors of it – the hotel is said to be reopening in the spring – has been reborn.  I walked around it last night, stunned – it did not feel to me like a business with an owner who had a clear vision, more hodgepodge of ideas – hotdogs stands (and the smell of hotdogs cooking) mix with coffee shops meant for students, bars designed for edgy 20-somethings and a small dance club; a sushi holds center stage on the main floor.  It was all a bit confusing for a person used to casinos with a central theme, sense of organization and a specific target market; it was just as confusing in the mix of people it drew.  I saw people my age, including in the dance clubs, high school students climbing walls and a wide variety of other people mingling, meandering and eating, drinking.

The main attraction is the climbing area on the second floor – it has three walls with twists and turns, under-sides, upper-sides and shear faces, all with brightly colored and oddly shaped hand grips.  CommRow only opened this weekend, so it is too soon to have any idea about its future.  But it is intriguing.  The developer, his last project was a major condo project – also a converted casino-hotel, is definitely out in front of trends and the economy.  He is taking a risk and trying to produce something unique – nearly every business is just a reconfiguration of others that deal in the same product or service. This one is not – of course there may be others in other cities, I don’t know; the climbing wall is not a new idea, nor are dance clubs or sushi restaurants – but all together? Last night it was exciting to watch the crowds, listen to music and taste the food as its scents drift around – but most exciting was watching the testosterone filled climbers attempting to scale a wall.  Girls did it it too and with just as much intensity and desire to succeed as the boys.  I don’t know if Reno is recovering from the recession or not, but I am certainly finding interesting and exciting signs that something is on the move  – we seem to be climbing out of morass one new business at at time.

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