An inside look at downtown Reno's future nonprofit grocery store
On the ground floor of the forgotten Rise Nightclub on the corner of Sierra and Second streets, a new idea for a new kind of grocery store is slowly rising from the ashes. But not just any grocery store — a nonprofit marketplace.
"We want to make it about the community," said Shannon Dobbs, chief visionary officer of the new 501(c)(3), On Common Ground.
The desert downtown
Dobbs, who also owns the Five Star Saloon on West Street, said he read an article in the RGJ last year that explained why downtown Reno doesn't have any grocery stores. One of the main reasons comes from lack of density and low income residents. The result is that most of downtown Reno is a United States Food and Drug Administration "food desert," meaning it lacks healthy food options for low income residents without access to vehicles.
Dobbs said his idea for On Common Ground hopes to address these issue by providing affordable food and community services.
Right now, Dobbs' main goal is to gather support in the community for writing grant applications for federal funding. One program, Let's Move!, was initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama and helps address childhood obesity through education, according to the Let's Move! official website.
About community, not experience
Dobbs also said he and his crew don't have experience running a grocery store, but care about making the community better. He hopes to join forces with other local grocery experts to learn how to set up the day-to-day operations. Most of all, he doesn't want to compete with places like the Great Basin Community Co-op already in downtown and instead wants to add to what they provide.
“We want to seal those holes in the social safety net,” he said, referring to low-income earners who need affordable nutritious foods in downtown.
The Rise Nightclub closed three years ago after severe water damage from a burst pipe made it unusable. Dobbs, who owns the building, has not been able to make repairs yet. But that hasn't stopped him from moving forward. Dobbs is also trying to sell the Five Star Saloon business so he can focus on the charity.
In fact, The first fundraiser for the store will be September 1 and 2 at Five Star Saloon. The fundraiser is a weekend long benefit show with Magic Mike XXL Male Revue, a "sizzling entertainment troupe divided into two-to-three man teams of performers, who shake their stuff throughout the club to ensure an eyeful at every turn," according to a press release.
Ticket-sale proceeds benefit On Common Ground.
A work in progress
Mountains of junk filled the ground floor of the former Rise Nightclub and 210 North building a few months ago, which is largely unaffected by the top-floor water damage and hasn't been used since Dobbs bought it. Remnants of a bar still stand in one corner with a small prep kitchen in the other. These artifacts stand as holdovers from the building's former life as the Money Tree casino.
On the west side, a false wall separates all the debris from an abandoned gift shop. In the basement, giant walk-in refrigerators collapse in disarray. Space for offices and storage also stand at the ready for a new life. Dobbs said that makes it perfect for a future grocery store that includes a small kitchen area, community space with internet access upstairs and storage in the basement.
The future of the actual nightclub space upstairs is still undetermined.
Most of the repairs and clean up is just hard labor and Dobbs doesn't see it as a problem for the new store. But it will take time to renovate and open anew — possible a year or more.
To revive the building, Dobbs will need to replace the broken boiler that caused the original water damage. He will also need to clear out and reshape the ground floor and basement to hold the new community services.
But what is a community grocery store?
The Project for Public Spaces advocates for for "placemaking" as a way to bring urban markets to places like downtown Reno in order to revitalize them. Placemaking "inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community," according to PPS.org.
"Markets spark urban revitalization, foster community diversity and improve public health," according to PPS.org. "We’re on the verge of a new era of market cities, with expansive networks to connect people and places."
Dobbs said he wants to convert the roof of the nightclub into a teaching garden for veterans and homeless. Dobbs is also a veteran.
While the idea for a nonprofit grocery store or marketplace may be new to Reno, it's not a new, untested idea in other cities.
The Daily Table is a nonprofit grocery store in Dorchester, Mass. that Dobbs is using for inspiration. They provide affordable food and produce by taking donations of excess food from suppliers and work with local farmers and ranchers.
Dobbs hopes is taking donations and applications for partnerships and people who have expertise in creating successful nonprofits. People can email Dobbs at OCGReno@gmail.com to inquire about next steps.
On Common Ground fundraiser
What: A male revue at Five Star Saloon to raise money for a downtown grocery store
When: Sept. 1 and 2 at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Five Star Saloon, 132 West Street
Tickets: Purchase tickets now from Five Star Saloon bartenders or via the Eventbrite ticket link at 5StarSaloon.com. $20 advance; $25 at the door. Limited VIP tickets available for seats up close and personal with the dancers plus an 8 p.m. pre-show Meet & Greet, $50.
Location of the On Common Ground grocery store
Corrections and additions Aug. 3, 2016 at 5:30 p.m.: Redacted information related to an ongoing lawsuit that was not public information. Clarified descriptions related to the condition of the building. Added information related to Dobbs community and federal grant outreach.