Traveling Upstream for Their Community: The Riverwalk Merchants Association

When sitting in The Riverwalk District in downtown Reno you know you have entered a place of unique splendor, but what you may not know is this area was created that way with help from the independent business owners who have worked together to create a vibrant place for tourists and locals, to enjoy with little to no assistance from outside sources. Recently recognized by Travel & Leisure as one of America’s Coolest Riverwalks, and featured in Sunset Magazine, Alaskan Airlines and New York Travel Magazine.The Riverwalk is home to Reno’s oldest and most iconic churches, monuments and buildings, including VSA arts at the Lake Mansion, the National Automobile Museum, recognized as America’s top 5 museums, The Riverside, and Sierra Arts.Employees, owners and volunteers are banded together into what is recognized as the Riverwalk Merchants Association, (RWMA).The members of RWMA have worked together since the late 1990’s to develop Reno’s Riverwalk District as a focus point for the city.

“You can go to five distinctly different destinations in a two block radius. Go to a movie; take a walk along the river; get a bite at a great restaurant with numerous cuisine options; grab a drink and then go dancing,” says Ed Adkins, Specialty pub crawl owner.

RenoRiverWalk_008RWMA is a non-profit coalition of energetic merchants dedicated to promoting and advertising a vibrant and safe downtown that offers unique dining, shopping and entertainment in an area that celebrates Reno’s arts, culture, and history every day of the year. The goal of the RWMA is to help preserve the Riverwalk and assist in it’s continual growth through events, marketing and economic development. Currently, there are 13 board members, four of which include the President, Past President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer in addition to another eight voting directors. Over the past 5 years the membership has grown from 12 to approximately 54 members, showing a positive reflection on economic development of the area. With all the growth the RWMA began renting a small two-room office in the West Street Market as a primary office space, for meetings and development.

The beauty of the non-profit association is that 100% of the funding comes from monthly special events generated by it’s members. The more popular of events is the long-running Wine Walk, held the third Saturday of each month and draws up to 3000participants in it’s peak summer months, this event is one of downtown’s great street parties,and acts as a catalyst for the discovery of new bars, clubs and restaurants–which have been sprouting up all over the district of late. The Wild River Grille, located in the historic Riverside Hotel, Campo (which Esquire Magazine recently named one of the Top 20 New Restaurants in America), Reno’s signature brand Reno eNVY, and West Street Wine Bar–inside West Street Market–are the latest additions to the area’s fast-rising corridor. The newest event called the Dine The District food tour allows patrons to experience seasonal food samplings at over 20 different locations for a nominal fee. The money raised then goes directly back into marketing the area of the Riverwalk District as a safe and fun travel destination for locals and visitors alike, it helps to beautify the area and bring awareness to small businesses in the district. The association currently does not receive government grants, or funding assistance by the city or any other entity.

13_5_13_RiverFest_034The Riverwalk Merchants Association has created their own colorful and recognizable brand, a custom illustrated map of the district, installed over 300 flags to identify the area with there own monies, developed and supported some of the regions most admired monthly events, created the beautification project and held summer cleanup projects to tend to the blighted and neglected areas of the downtown corridor.

“As an association we are taking charge of our own neighborhood and helping to grow the area organically, encouraging new business to move to our downtown corridor on a daily basis, this is a community to be modeled after” Vice President Scott Dunseath.

A nonprofit helping nonprofits is almost unheard of,but over the past 5 years the RWMA has donated over $62,000 from the wine walk sales to other locally ran non–profits such as the CARE Chest, SPCA of Nevada,Nevada Diabetes Association, Northern Nevada Hopes, Children’s Cabinet, Bruka Theater, VSA Arts, Edible Pedal 100, For Kids Foundation, Child Assault prevention, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Disability Resources, Habitat for Humanity, Honors Academy of Literature, Food Bank of Northern Nevada,Shakespeare Animal Fund, American Cancer Society and Artown to name a few.

Reno was recently named the top nine cities to live by liveability.com. “The Riverwalk District has won hundreds of awards each year not only for the individual businesses, but also for their District as a whole.With all of the infrastructure and cultural amenities, the art, the dining, the architecture, the theaters and entertainment, you’re going to start seeing more and more people choosing to live and do business in the district, because so much is going on here,” says West St. Wine Bar owner and Riverwalk Merchants Association President Rick Martinez .

Since The Beginning the mighty Truckee River has served as a centerpiece to our city and the District itself sits along the banks of where Reno was first established next to the first bridge to cross the Truckee River in the late1800’s. Local merchants are proud to welcome you back to The Riverwalk District and celebrate the place where Reno began.