The 'Wonder of Wells': Neighborhood changing its reputation

RENO, NV (KOLO) If you haven’t been to Wells Avenue lately, the merchants in the area say you’re missing out. The neighborhood, just east of Midtown, has been many things over the years, but it has always been a home to small businesses. But many go unnoticed by the hundreds of drivers who drive the stretch of road every day, much to the dismay of small business owners.

"We just want you to go in and see what they're about," Michelle Moore, owner of Pewter Nail Spa, said.

Moore is also part of the Wells Merchant Association and spearheading an event to get people to eat, shop, and walk the wonders of Wells.

"The heart of this whole street is beating, and it’s vibrant, and I want to keep it that way because it’s such an amazing place," Moore said. "I still feel it’s such a hidden gem and I want people to know about it."

The district has seen its ups and downs over the years. Tom Stewart, who opened Truckee Meadow Herbs in 1982, remembers a time when Park Lane Mall was open when the area was thriving. But he says when the mall closed, the Wells Avenue area sort of withered. Now, it's going through a new revival. New shops are moving in, and the anchor businesses are thriving, but still to many people, Wells Avenue has a bit of a reputation.

"It’s had this stigma for years," Stewart said. "But you know what, we kind of like our neighborhood. It’s kind of a mix of everybody, and we love that it’s so unique."

To Stewart and Moore, and other small business owners in the area, Wells Avenue is like family. A family that wants to welcome outsiders in, and that is what they are doing with the 'Wonders of Wells Treasure Walk'.

"I really feel like Wells has had somewhat of a deviation from what really is to what is perceived," Moore said. "And this is going to be a way to really show the inclusivity, diversity, and family friendliness that we have on Wells."

A BOOMING REVIVAL

37 years ago, a young Stewart in his 20s opened his business on Wells.

"It was a little space," he said. "It was only 500 square feet. It only cost me $450 a month."

Nearly 40 years later, Stewart says small businesses are still attracted to Wells because of those same reasons.

"This is the place to come to when you want to get your business going and you don't have much money."

But for how long? Rents in nearby Midtown have skyrocketed, forcing some businesses to relocate. Wells Avenue is a natural next step, but as the area grows investors are taking notice.

"A lot of the little mom and pops that have been here for so long are getting pushed out by the investors that are coming in, renovating the buildings and then charging double or triple," Moore said.

And it doesn't help that many of those stores aren't easily noticed by drivers.

On the south end of Wells is PJ & Co. Restaurant Saloon, a local favorite for 32 years. But it's a destination stop. People go there just to get breakfast or lunch, then get in their cars and leave. PJ's is lucky too- it gets a lot of its patronage from families sharing the experience with younger generations.

"It has always been a comfortable, fun, family friendly place," Manager Kelley Glogovac said.

But just one block south of PJ's is Plaza Maya, a business you may only catch out of the side of your eye as you focus on going through the roundabout. On foot, the warm and bright atmosphere invites you in. But if no one knows you exist, and rents keep going up, the merchants worry that will force some stores to close.

“This is something that is concerning everyone on the street, those of us who rent, and we're hoping we can get the word out,” Stewart said.

That’s the purpose behind the ‘Wonder of Wells Treasure Walk’. The inaugural event is designed to get people out of their cars and into the district.

“It does stir people up a little bit and remind people of Wells Avenue,” Glogovac said. “Hopefully this event will help introduce people to these little hidden gems.”

“With a lot of little businesses on this street, you go in the door and you’re amazed what’s in there,” Stewart said. “You didn’t know it was there at all, but there’s a lot of them.”

The premise behind the family friendly event is simple- pick up a map at IMBĪB, Truckee Meadow Herbs, or Reno Little Theater, and get exploring. Each store you go to gives you a stamp, and if you collect enough you can win prizes at the end of the day.

The walk kicks off Saturday, June 22 at 10 a.m. To learn more click here.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019