Orange cone Christmas: Some Midtown merchants did well

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) You could have been easily excused for avoiding a trip to Reno's Midtown District this holiday season.

The street has always narrowed here. Parking is always a problem. Add a forest of orange cones and the promise of changing street closures, and it's easy to imagine many choosing to go elsewhere.

But strangely enough, especially on the north end of the district, where traffic was cut down to one-way moving south, the report is positive.

"This past weekend especially has been extremely busy," says Hannah McLaughlin, manager of the Nomad Boutique. "We had a lot of people in and out. Today I think, the day after Christmas, people have been taking some time off from shopping but it's been very busy."

One reason was the number of diagonal parking spaces that single lane of traffic made possible. It helped.

"We had 84 more parking spots," notes Jessie Henderson, co-owner of a very busy Two Chicks restaurant at midday."So anyone brave enough to come downtown has realized that it's actually better than it's been before."

Now the bad news: it's temporary. In fact, with the wider sidewalks and landscaping planned, there will be less parking than before.

"It seems like this should have been the primary option from the beginning," she says with a shrug.

The south end of Midtown didn't see as many of those new parking spaces or, apparently, the increased business.

"We had the first down year in 30 years. Very sad," reports David Lorenz of Michael & Son's Jewelry. .

He blames the chaos of the construction.

"It hurts."

Unlike most of the others on this street, he has off-street parking, but access issues had an impact.

"People not knowing how to get around the traffic. Signage has been very inadequate as far as letting people know how to get here."

That problem may continue. In fact, it may be built into the design of the project, which calls for landscaped medians that could block access to his parking.

The RTC says the project will transform Virginia Street into an attractive pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with wide landscaped sidewalks and medians. The worry among businesses is that their customers by and large aren't walking or cycling in. They're driving and finding little parking, and medians that may block access are going to mean continuing challenges.

"We're just going to keep doing what we can do," says Henderson, "and all those businesses in Midtown are just going to keep pushing for each other and just really get the word out that Midtown is still a place to be and hopefully the community has been really great supporting us."

The RTC says once it's done--and that could be two years yet--it will look to develop more parking. And they point out there will be breaks and turn lanes built into those medians.

Click for RTC info on the Midtown road project.

As for the possibility of one-way traffic and diagonal parking: There's a story going around that option was rejected years ago. We couldn't find any evidence of that claim.

In any case, changing the design now, the RTC says, would delay the project for years more.