November 8, 2012 | Back to: News

Washoe Valley business withers with new freeway

RENO, Nev. - Kelly Peitz spent much of the past few weeks packing up and removing everything inside Old 395 Station in Washoe Valley. Peitz's garage at her Sparks home is now stacked full with convenience-store items - racks of Bic lighters, cans of chewing tobacco, commercial deli equipment.

Old 395 Station, the venerable gas station that provided fuel and treats to residents of Washoe Valley and travelers between Reno and Carson City for decades, folded Oct. 13.

Peitz and the handful of retailers located in the Washoe Valley corridor say revenues at their businesses plummeted drastically once Interstate 580 between Reno and the state capital opened at the end of August.

Approximately 33,000 and 38,000 vehicles per day formerly traveled U.S. 395, Nevada Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Magruder says, and while no traffic counts have been undertaken on the new freeway, Magruder estimates 75 percent or more of vehicles have shifted to the new route.

That signaled a death-knell for Old 395 Station. Peitz and her husband Steve bought the business in March of 2011 and opened it a month later. They were finally headed to profitability after covering startup costs before the freeway opened, Kelly Peitz says, but once it did revenues dropped from about $8,000 to $1,000 a day. Peitz employed five people at the store, including three family members and two Washoe Valley residents. As she loads the store's goods into a pickup she regularly turns away potential customers seeking gas, especially diesel fuel.

Compounding the problem, Peitz says, is the lack of access to U.S. 395 while NDOT completes work on the Bowers Mansion Interchange.

For the past two months, travelers from Carson City could only access 395 by using the Bellevue interchange at the far south end of Washoe Valley - a 10-mile detour. Motorists headed from Reno who don't take the old route are stuck on a 12-mile stretch of I-580 once entering the new freeway at the Mount Rose Highway junction.

No one is making the long detour for a sip of gas or a sandwich. The old freeway often was jam-packed during the day with car and truck traffic warily watching for the Nevada Highway Patrol, but now motorists have the odd feeling of driving the route with no other cars in sight.

James Painter, part owner of Washoe Valley Storage, says New Washoe City is quickly becoming a ghost town. Painter and his co-workers often patronized the deli at Old 395 Station for lunch, but now the only place to get a bite is on Eastlake Boulevard or miles away in Reno.

About 20 percent of business at Washoe Valley Storage came from drivers between Carson City and Reno, Painter says. Many of his tenants have complained about the lack of access to the facility, but so far there haven't been any moveouts - yet.

The ownership at Washoe Valley Storage has cut its rates and spent money on print advertising in an effort to draw new tenants. "We are trying to even out that loss of drive-by traffic that were getting," Painter says.

Danny Salzwimmer, general manager of the Chocolate Nugget Candy Factory, began a television advertising campaign to let people know the longtime homemade candy shop still is open for business. Salzwimmer estimated the business founded in 1983 would suffer a 50 percent dip in revenues once I-580 opened, but revenues have declined to the tune of about 70 percent.

"It hasn't been good," he says. "As time goes on it seems to be dropping even more."

Chocolate Nugget was forced to lay off three people and begin closing at 6 p.m. to control costs.

Salzwimmer is working with the Nevada Interstate Logos program to install exit and directional signage for the Chocolate Nugget, and ownership also is mulling moving the business to a new location with better accessibility.

"So many ideas have been thrown out, but we are thinking of ways to boost sales somehow," Salzwimmer says. "We are just try to watch our expenses as far as ordering, and we are trying to pinch where we can."

Peitz fumes about what she perceives as failures by NDOT to provide better access to businesses on U.S. 395. Now that the store is closed she's stuck looking for a job.

"We would have made it had they left our road open. It is heartbreaking. Every time I go to that store it's hard to leave - we put so much time and resources there. Couldn't they have done things differently so we wouldn't be so affected?"

Magruder says that when the freeway finally opened after more than four years of construction no one estimated how long it would take to complete work on the Bowers Mansion Interchange, the final piece of the half-billion freeway project, the largest public works job in state history.

The interchange opened last week. Peitz hopes someone eventually purchases Old 395 Station, which should benefit from increased traffic counts once the interchange providing access to old U.S. 395 opens.

"It is still a great location," she says.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Nov 8, 2012 12:37PM Published Nov 8, 2012 12:36PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.