Rob Sabo

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August 24, 2009
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Burning Man boosts water sales

Organizers of Burning Man Web site suggest that Burners drink 1.5 gallons of water per day to stay hydrated and the sale of that water and other necessities provides some much-needed liquidity for northern Nevada retailers.

The annual festival, which is expected to draw about 50,000 people from around the world to the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, begins next Monday.

Many Burners stop in Reno to buy water and other supplies, and retailers have learned through the years to handle a crush of tie-dyed shoppers.

Perhaps no store in the Truckee Meadows sees more business from Burning Man shoppers than the Save Mart on Keystone Avenue.

The store, which normally closes at 1 a.m., stays open 24 hours as the event draws near and also transforms a section of it parking lot into an outdoor market.

Store Manager Todd Baldwin says Save Mart has honed its preparation for Burning Man over the past 12 years. Supplying water has become one of the store's specialties.

Baldwin stocks hundreds of pallets of water for the event. Save Mart partnered for the first time last year with Aqua Fill of Oceanside, Calif., to provide a mobile filling station to better serve burners. One side of the truck has self-serve machines to fill jugs, while the other has hoses that snake out to fill RVs and 55-gallon jugs.

Water sales from the truck were extremely popular last year, Baldwin says, and he expects to do twice as much business this year from repeat customers.

"When you are dealing with 400- or 500-gallon orders at a time, we ran into some interesting situations, but we were able to keep up and didn't have a whole lot of disappointed people. There were excited we were trying to do this."

Mike Cadena, owner of Simply Water in Reno, says Burning Man shoppers add the equivalent of an extra month's worth of business to his bottom line.

Simply Water is hoping for a rebound in sales this year. After moving from a well-positioned store next to Save Mart on Keystone Avenue to 1070 Gentry Way, Simply Water's sales dipped last August because the store's old address was still listed on the Burning Man Web site.

With the correct address listed, Cadena expects to do twice as much business leading up to the final burn than he did last year.

"When we first opened 10 years ago I didn't realize what impact it would have," Cadena says. "It had got bigger every year until we moved. Now I have to kind of start over again."

Harold Miller, director of family-owned MillerWater at 2990 Sullivan Lane in Sparks, also hopes for higher sales for this year's event; the store had only been open a few months before Burning Many in 2008, and just five burners stopped in for water.

To increase business, MillerWater listed his store on the Burning Man preparation site, and the store's own Web site allows burners to pre-order water and containers and pick them up on their way to Black Rock Desert.

"That way I don't have to spend a lot of money on inventory I don't know if I will use or not," Miller says. "So far it has been pretty promising."

Miller says he added an extra storage tank at the store and ordered three times as much water supply for the event. He also ordered about 250 three- and five-gallon water bottles.

Linda Salvidar, manager of Fresca Waterhouse at 1196 Rock Blvd. in Sparks, says the store will increase its hours until 9 p.m. the week of Burning Man. Fresca Waterhouse also added an extra pump to fill RV's.

Other retailers have a long history of catering to Burning Man shoppers.

Scott Riedel, manager of Twin City Surplus, says business increases 30 to 40 percent in the week leading up to the final burn.

Riedel says Twin City typically stays open as long as there are customers shopping. The store sells large water storage containers and shade materials such as parachutes and camouflage netting.

"This is Nevada you have to bring your trees with you," Riedel says.

Riedel stocks up on the materials for the month of August and reorders as needed. On-demand procurement is not an issue, he says.

"We've got our supply chains lined up."

Twin City's Riedel says total revenues for the year are down, and he wonders how much impact shoppers will have for this year's burn. Burning Man attracts a wide range of income levels, he says, and the majority of Twin City Surplus shoppers are at the lower end of that range.

"It is the tent campers and those who are camping out of rental trucks and cars that usually stop here for supplies, and the people in those income brackets are definitely squeezed a lot tighter."

Randy Robison, owner Black Rock Bicycles, started his business six years ago with 15 bikes he rented out for $25. Today the store, which operates out of a shop on Robinson's property in North Valleys, has more than 500 bikes. He's rented about 300 at $75 each, and Black Rock Bicycles also struck an agreement with Save Mart to sell bicycles at the three area Save Mart stores.

Business has increased to the point where Robison had to hire an accountant, and he expects to make a substantial profit this year. Black Rock Bicycles also sells accessories such as glow wire, bells and other supplies to make bikes "artsy."

"It has been amazing ride," Robison says.

Carlo, Luri, general manager of Bently Biofuels in Minden, says Burning Man accounts for about 10 percent of August revenues. Bently Biofuels supplies roughly 3,000 gallons of biofuel to the event for diesel buses and generators.

More importantly, Luri says, is the increased awareness biofuels receive at the eco-sensitive event.

"When people realize they can burn biofuel, they figure maybe they can do it with another application," he says. "It has led to continuing sales and brings recognition for the product."


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 24, 2009 12:00AM Published Aug 24, 2009 12:00AM Copyright 2009 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.