Open-mall shopping, when consumers were tough

ParkLaneThere was a holiday season years ago when old local shopping habits started to fray at the edges – a new concept of merchandising opened south of town with a pretty good selection of stuff to choose from, and 3,000 parking spaces (parking downtown had started to become an issue in the mid-1960s.) Mighty Sears, by then no longer Roebuck, pioneered the migration from their location on Sierra Street to a new place called Park Lane in September of 1965; within two years the center would fill its 580,000 square feet of space – more total retail space than existed downtown.

               Many established friends from downtown Reno joined Sears, like Sonny and Randy Burke and Kenny York at Mt. Rose Sporting Goods and Betty Mirabelli’s Record Room (round black things that played music) when the main mall started opening in February of 1967. F.W. Woolworth’s opened a major store, larger than their downtown outlet (which would remain in operation for many years to follow.) Two major stores with a Nevada presence opened in 1967; Joseph Magnin, from North Virginia Street, and Roos Atkins (yikes, do I need to write men’s store for the younger readers? I guess I’d better…) Most thought Roos Atkins was established in San Francisco and new to Reno; in truth, its predecessor Roos Brothers opened in the Comstock in 1871 so they’d been around for a while.

               Established Reno powerhouse Durkee Travel migrated from their office across from the Holiday, whoops, Siena Hotel, and from West Second Street came Schilling’s Leather, think luggage and wallets. We had the World of Toys, and a Hallmark Store, for those who cared to send the very best; a hot ticket was Frederick’s of Hollywood – lacy stuff banned in Boston in 1967 but seen around every high school today during lunch hours. I can’t ignore Park Lane Florist where my RHS classmate Craig Morrison petaled flowers, and from Gray Reid’s downtown came the Bird Cage restaurant, later to be renamed the Gazebo. Two other classmates, one George Cross, rode the then-current hippie craze with his popular Sneed Hearn Ltd. tie-dye shop, and the other, Dale Prevost owned the leather shop – clothing.

               Owners Pik and Letty Southworth of Southworth’s Tobacco, the legendary store across from Harolds opened their gift-and-event ticket store Pik & Letty’s – the popular slogan attributed to, but never acknowledged by them was “Jesus is Coming, tickets at Pik & Letty’s” and if you read that here that I’ll be amazed. [The Gazoo printed it. I was amazed.]Weinstocks three-story department store would open a few months later. First National Bank originally opened in the main mall; four years later the present stand-alone Wells Fargo branch opened on East Plumb and Locust.  

               Hungry? Or thirsty? Stop by Eddie May’s Prime Rib on the west side of the mall, which several years later would become Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus, an excellent chain restaurant out of Washington state. Many remember their booths, created by heavily dark-tinted suspended acrylic panels that inadvertently created a mirrored maze. They lasted a few months ‘til the fire department pointed out that in the event of an emergency the diners would all be medium-well before they could find a doorway out. Eve Lynn’s Strolling Fashions held forth at lunchtime, and Duke’s Wild Goose lounge (a John Wayne theme, pilgrim) was a popular late-evening hangout long after the mall had closed.

               The mall was enclosed on four sides, but open to the sky – a wondrous sight under the perennial extensive holiday décor, new-fallen snow crushing beneath your boots, with John Tellaisha’s Reno High School choir or voices from any number of local churches singing carols this time of year. Swinging the Salvation Army bell were local Lions Club members that we all knew, often transportation and tourism exec Vic Charles wearing a gray Santa beard. (That was 35 years ago; Vic’s now grown a Santa beard of his own.) Park Lane was a beautiful sight at Christmas, and a great place to shop and meet old friends.

               The original developers were pooh-poohed by some locals, “What do a car dealer, a couple of doctors, a banker, a rancher, and an investor know about running a shopping center?” Apparently, quite a bit – Park Lane was vastly successful from its inception, setting the standard for local mall shopping. Architect Ralph Casazza built Shopper’s Square across Plumb Lane in about the same time frame – also deservedly successful – and the geographic sum for the local consumers was greater than the parts. In January of 1978, the year by the way that Meadowood Mall was built, Park Lane was sold to Macerich, a giant retail center developer.   Their motto, according to a RGJ article, was “We make good things happen.”

               Now writing in a benevolent holiday mood, I’ll explore that doctrine in another column. The casual reader may have noticed one glaring omission in the Park Lane tenant roster, a bookstore, and now comes the professional writer, closed-course, don’t-try-this-at-home plug: Waldenbooks, in the center of Park Lane’s west building, didn’t stock The Sting of the Scorpion, my new novel (with Linda Patrucco) but Sundance Books in Keystone Square does, and we’ll be signing it next Saturday morning at 11 ayem. They’ll have my last year’s You’re doing WHAT to the Mapes…? column compilation book as well. [2014 note: Sundance Books & Music is now located at 121 California Avenue at Sierra Street]

               Have a good week; buy a kid a warm coat and some gloves, and God bless America.

© RGJ 2006