Christmas at Keystone Square and Shoppers Square, c. 1970

SlimFollowing a couple of “Walking” columns, I received an interesting email: “I’ve lived here for thirty years and I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”   I have a flash for this writer: There are people who’ve lived here twice as long who don’t know what I’m talking about either, and I occasionally include myself.

            So to appease him (her?); we’ll only go back thirty years this morning to 1970 – there’s only ten shopping days until Christmas, the Pinto’s warmed up in the driveway so we’ll drive to a couple of shopping areas.  Park Lane Center, the granddaddy of local shopping has been open for four years now but we’ll start elsewhere and wind up there next week.

            We like the Keystone area, as do so many people who moved into that booming area when Sproul Contractors started building homes in the first one-third of the 1960s.  A mini-town sprang up with its own banks, cleaners, service stations, even its own disk jockey on KOLO radio – live from the El Cortez Hotel – Pete Carrothers, who romanced the so-called “Sproul” (northwest Reno) trade on the air, asserting that he woke up next to every woman in northwest Reno (leaving out the “if she had her radio tuned to 920 AM.  Lucky them.)  The hot spot became the Keystone Center, built by Al Caton, the owner of Keystone Fuel/Reno Press Brick, committing land formerly occupied by the brickyard’s quarry.  It had a movie theater, and the hot spot we’ll hit this morning, Uncle Happy’s Toy Store, the best in the West.  Sir Loin’s Steak House was a favorite, operated by a couple of young guys named Nat Caraseli and Bill Paganetti, who later opened a little coffee shop called the Peppermill in 1971.  We might go back there for lunch, there or the Chocolate Pit, later to become the Coffee Grinder that fed a generation of local folks.

            Across Keystone was the greatest drug store in Reno, the big Keystone Owl Rexall Drug, Jim Henderson and Frank Desmond, your genial pill-pushers.  Jim has passed away; Frank is an occasional contributor to this column, both good friends to many.  Many remember Jim doing TV commercials occasionally with two guys he met playing golf at Hidden Valley, whose names were Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.  While it was occasionally difficult to ascertain what product they were selling on TV, if any, they were having fun, and we at home enjoyed their own localized Laugh-In. We’ll stop in there this morning on our shopping spree and pick up some gift wrap and stocking stuffers. 

            Traveling down Keystone Avenue, we can go over the fairly-new Keystone Bridge, through an intersection that pits motorists from Booth Street, Keystone and California Avenues together to the amazement of all when it opened.  In the venerable Village Shopping Center by Reno High School were a number of old friends, like Safeway, Sprouse Reitz sundries, the Village Drug — a great complement to the Keystone Owl Rexall.  The Mirabelli family had a record store there, later to move to Park Lane.  A fabric shop that was there seemingly forever finally closed; the present shoe repair shop was probably an original tenant.  P&S Hardware had a branch at the Village; [the late gentlemen] Gene Parvin and Bill Spiersch making it easy for the burst of homeowner/fixit guys springing up in southwest Reno’s new homes.  A Pioneer Citizens Bank branch.  We can’t forget the Chinese Village restaurant, which had a number of names in years to follow, notably a Dick Graves chicken store, and would finally become the original Truckee River Bar & Grill.  A lot of good grub has gone through that corner in fifty-plus years. 

            The Village is a Reno fixture.

  • • •

We’re still stumped with a few gifts so let’s keep moving; as I said, next weekend we’ll poke around Park Lane a little in a column that’s kind of an encore.  Many people enjoyed that Park Lane column that’s run several times in the past seven years, but we Gazoo columnists don’t get the big bucks for resubmitting old retreaded columns.  (Plus, I can’t find it on my computer’s disk.)  [I still can’t.] 

            But now, it’s approaching noon on a December 1970 Saturday so we’ll park at Shoppers Square on Plumb Lane (I wish that Security Bank on the corner had an ATM – I could use a little cash.)  Like Park Lane across the street, Shoppers Square was open then between the stores; the roof came later.  (What’s with shopping center owners covering their malls?  We Nevadans are a hardy lot.)

            Silver State Camera held forth in the Square, probably the largest camera store in Reno at the time.  I got an Instamatic there; still have it.  But nowhere to buy film for it anymore.  Hobby Towne was head-to-head in competition with Park Lane’s hobby store, both good places to shop.  There was a Spudnut shop, nothing like the original on West Fourth Street, not quite as crowded as Krispy Kreme would be thirty years later.

            You can call it Savon, you can call it Osco, but you doesn’t has ta call it Skagg’s, the Square’s big anchor’s earliest incarnation [now CVS].  And my favorite store, two great merchants Hal Codding and Jerry Wetzel, who moved their ski-oriented sporting goods store Codding & Wetzel from Pine Street downtown (I wrote about it in conjunction with the Olympic A-Frame.)  Both owners were fixtures in local skiing and the 1960 Squaw Olympics; Jerry would die a few years later in a skiing accident, while Hal brightened our town for many years to follow.     The hour draws late.  Nod at Santa in the plaza, but don’t call him “George” and confuse the kid on his lap who thinks he’s really Santa.  Maybe he is. (George Randolph, the Square’s perennial elf and Hartford Insurance retiree)   Let’s walk across Virginia to the Central Park lounge in the Continental Lodge for a hot-buttered-rum. 

            Cheers to five shopping days, and God Bless America!

I was asked when I used the picture seen above six_singersof the six-year-old-kid+70 last week, in the top hat, Dr. Seuss scarf and Underwood Standard typewriter, who that individual might be. His name is Slim Dickens; he’s the ninth and illegitimate son of Charles Dickens. He’s been on my staff for many years, researching and lecturing, and during Christmas traditionally leads the Reno Chamber Orchestra in Bach’s enduring “Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist.”


© RGJ Dec. 2002