Reno’s Iconic Shoppers Square is Getting a Remodel

Reno Public Market
Article by Melanie Sanchez, The Abbi Agency

About Reno Public Market
“This refreshing new take on a shopping center will be a street-retail fusion of modern-architecture meeting the rich history of the Casazza family,” said Doug Wiele, Foothill Partners. “We’ll be bringing a cutting-edge design never seen before in Reno that will incorporate community-needs, all in one place. And the design will focus on ‘place’–a focus on creating a great gathering place at the south end of Midtown.”

The renaming is part of the center’s revitalization project, for which plans include development of the existing space to accommodate additional tenants and amenities that align with the marketplace’s new aesthetics.

Plans for Reno Public Market include concepts for large gathering areas to create a sense of place and inclusion within the infrastructure’s walls. Welcoming all community members, Reno Public Market strives to become the ultimate destination for everyday necessities.

Doug Wiele of multi-award-winning Foothill Partners is assisting with the logistics of bringing this project to life. With experience in revitalizing outdated shopping centers. He plans for the design to be focused on creating a gathering space at the hub of the busiest street corners.

“We aren’t going to start from scratch,” said Wiele. “By incorporation modern-architecture, and a sleek design to the present infrastructure, we hope to showcase the rich history of the Casazza family as well as highlight the ever-growing needs of northern Nevada residents. We want to create a ‘place’ for people to gather and call their community living room.”

History of Shoppers Square
With their involvement and dedication to their community, the Casazza household envisioned a future in retail and found success in creating a family-run city center in the 60s. Continuing the legacy in 2018, the family is committing to bringing an incomparable mix of amenities to Reno that complements the existing culture.

It was in 1963, that the “Biggest Little City” started to outgrow its limits and pushed towards the outskirts of town. Wanting to invest in the developing community, their family-owned ranch, which once covered 140 acres of land, was transformed into a $2.4 million shopping complex. This monumental step allowed for businesses and residents to start migrating south and created the modern-day city hub of Reno we know now.

Forty-nine years after Shoppers Square opened, co-founder and patriarch Ralph Casazza continued to climb the stairs to his second-floor office several afternoons a week to check in on his realm.  Mr. Casazza continued to manage the shopping center until a week before he passed away April 4, 2013.

The modest complex has weathered a tempestuous era of retailing in Reno, outliving its more upscale rival, Park Lane Mall across the street, expanding several times and continuing to draw a steady clientele, as it has since 1964.

Up to his passing at 86, Casazza has seen nearly everything: stores come and go, shopping centers rise and fall, and retail’s geographic center move south from downtown Reno to Plumb Lane to points beyond.

His secret, he divulged only when pressed, is the connection of a family-run center with its merchants.

Unlike corporately owned retail complexes these days, Shoppers Square always has been run by a Casazza, and the President and CEO Ralph Casazza was a regular presence until March of 2013.

“We’re hands-on, and we’re very involved with the community,” said the soft-spoken grandson of Italian immigrants. “We were dedicated, and we lived local.”

Rooted in history

Anthony Casazza & his three grandsons
Anthony Casazza & his three grandsons

It doesn’t get more local than this: Shoppers Square sits on the old Casazza ranch that once covered 140 acres from a dirt road that is now Plumb Lane up to Vassar Street.

And Casazza said his office was literally above the site of the original family home, which his father bought in 1923 along with the sprawling Morton property, dating to the 1870s, that once included a race track and fairgrounds.

There, Anthony and Rena Casazza raised Ralph and his younger sisters, Alice and Blanche, before divesting much of their acreage, parcel by parcel, as the city grew south.

Today, the remaining family property is Shoppers Square bounded by Plumb Lane on the south, Virginia Street and Wells Avenue on the west, Casazza Drive on the north and Kirman Street to the east.

Architecture was Ralph Casazza’s love early on. Even while attending the University of Nevada, he developed his business. With the exception of a two-year stint in Korea with the Army, he kept at it for a half-century until finally selling the business in 1999.

Banks, casinos, various buildings on the UNR campus, and numerous other edifices across the region bear at least some of his imprint.

But when it comes to Shoppers Square, the Casazza name is as enduring, if not more so.

A bold idea

Its origins go back to the 1950s as the ranch shrank under the city’s reach and the family looked for ways to develop its remaining holdings.

Back then, downtown Reno was the only place to shop. But already commerce was spilling south down Virginia Street, then the only north-south thoroughfare.

The Casazzas envisioned a future in retail, and as the ’60s dawned, they saw their chance. First to open was Security National Bank on the corner of Virginia and Plumb.

“Everyone wondered why the heck you’d want to build a bank so far out of downtown Reno. You’d never make a go of it,” Casazza recalled. “But we started the migration out of downtown. People wanted location.”

In the summer of ’63 came the big announcement: The Casazzas were going to build a $2.4 million shopping complex on 8.5 acres of family property to be called Shoppers Square.

It was eye-opening, Casazza remembers. But he had a signed lease in hand from drugstore magnate Sam Skaggs, as well as a deal to build a grocery store under the name of Los Angeles-based chain Mayfair Markets. Fifteen smaller shops followed.

“We had a good mix,” Casazza said. “We still do today.”

Retail game on
Three years after opening, he and his tenants watched Park Lane rise with a swagger on the south side of Plumb, topped by a glamorous department store anchor from California, Weinstocks.

But it didn’t phase Casazza and his more middle-class Shoppers Square. He saw opportunity. Park Lane would only add to the exodus of shoppers out of downtown.

“We welcomed it,” he said.

It helped, too, that the Casazzas had a knack for promotion, bringing in amusement park rides over holiday weekends and live animals including reindeer at Christmas time.

A decade later, in 1978, Meadowood Mall opened farther south, eventually eclipsing Park Lane as the region’s premier shopping center — and with a roof to boot, which was a new concept in Reno retailing.

Inevitably, Park Lane built a roof of its own. Not to be outdone, the Casazzas announced a $1.7 million expansion, including adding a second floor and enclosure with the theme, “No matter what the weather, the shopping will be great.”

By the 1980s, with ownership changes, Park Lane began a slow slide toward its eventual demise in 2007. Meadowood carried on, and the retail map grew southward, eventually to Mount Rose Highway where the Summit shopping complex sits today.

At Shoppers Square, names have come and gone: Skaggs, Mayfair, Lawrence’s department store and others.

But the Casazzas continued to adjust the mix to fit the modest neighborhoods around them and, several years ago, completed their latest expansion, including new Staples and Smart & Final Extra stores.

Finding a niche
Longtime tenants said reasonable rents are a key to the center’s survival in the jungle that is the retail world.

“The family owned the land, and that was key to keeping their overhead down in costs,” said John Larsen, co-founder and CEO of Port of Subs, who has operated a restaurant in Shoppers Square for more than 20 years.

“Look at the clients, like Marshalls. It’s a mid-line client. The product mix is more conducive to more middle-income shoppers,” Larsen said. “Shoppers Square knew what their demographics were and attracted business to complement that.

“Ralph understood what he could charge for rent and what the market would bear. We would butt heads sometimes, but I respect him.”

Reno native and area historian Karl Breckenridge recalled watching the evolution of Virginia Street and Plumb Lane into one of the region’s busiest intersections.

“Ralph had a vision, he had this idea,” Breckenridge said of Shoppers Square. “Park Lane went down the drain at the biggest confluence of traffic around, but Ralph built the thing, and he’s a survivor.

“He’s the kind of the guy who said, ‘I’m going to keep it local,’ and he did.”

“It’s not such a huge mall that it’s inconvenient, not like Meadowood where you walk miles to get somewhere,” said a former tenant of the mall.

Tess Olson, manager at Sheplers Western Wear commented, “Ralph comes by, stops in and asks how sales are. He’s a regular, asking how things are going.”

Casazza looked to daytime estimates of 90,000 people within a one-mile radius of Shoppers Square as a major factor in his center’s 92 percent occupancy rate even in a recession.

Indeed, what used to be the outskirts of town is now considered a central location.

‘I’m a little concerned,” Casazza said of the recession’s pinch on retailers. “But it will pass. We just want to continue to be one of the main shopping centers in Reno.”

Reno Public Market logo

Reno Public Market
370 Casazza Dr.
Reno, Nevada 89502

Follow them on social: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram