Ghosts of Carson: McDonald’s

There was a time that Carson City had 5 McDonald’s restaurants. There is the one at Winnie and Carson that seems like it’s been there forever. Even when the building got old and outdated they just tore it down and rebuilt it new and kept chugging like nothing had happened. There was the one at S Carson and Eagle Station, built probably in the 1980s. There was one McDonald’s in each of the WalMart stores, at Topsy and at College Parkway. And there was a McDonald’s built in the 90s in the parking lot of the new Super Kmart, at College Parkway and north Carson Street. Nowadays we are down to three; the one in the Topsy Walmart closed recently to make way for a Little Caesar’s pizza. But the most visible closure was the McDonald’s built in the parking lot of the Super Kmart.

When the Super Kmart opened in 1994, this seemed like the new hot part of town. College Parkway had recently been built as a 4-lane thoroughfare between the Carson City Airport and Western Nevada Community College. The former Kmart at the Silver City Mall was old, small, and overshadowed by the new Walmart on Clearview Street. This new store was huge, with everything the old store had plus an automotive repair center, full grocery store, and a Little Caesar’s pizza. This part of town grew up around the Kmart, with a large strip mall going in next door, an Albertson’s opening across the street, and a new McDonald’s being built in the parking lot.

Business was brisk at first. This was the first fast food that people driving from Reno to Carson would see as they entered town. The Kmart proved to be very popular and brought lots of traffic right past the restaurant. A Starbucks was built nearby, and Bully’s Sports Bar. Everything was thriving.

But it couldn’t last. Kmart corporation was struggling under competitive pressure from Walmart, and as part of a bankruptcy restructuring the Carson City Super Kmart closed in 2003, just 9 years after opening. The owners of the building tried to find a new tenant but failed, and even today, 14 years after closing, the building remains empty aside from a gym tucked away in the corner. The large shopping center that was built next to the Kmart was a similar failure, having a few small tenants over the years but remaining largely empty ever since it was built. Starbucks and Bully’s remained open, along with a couple of other small places, but overall that shopping center had become a ghost town.

It was in this climate that the McDonald’s held on, seemingly as long as they could. There was still traffic on Carson Street coming from Reno, though that was minimized by the opening of the freeway. This location still had a PlayPlace which the McDonald’s on Winnie lacked. And there was a SaveMart supermarket (formerly Albertson’s) across the street that still brought folks to this part of town. But nobody ventured into the old Kmart parking lot unless they had to, so going to McDonald’s had to be a predetermined decision, rather than something spontaneous.

After the rebuild of the Winnie McDonalds, it was finally decided that there was no longer a need to keep the one in the Kmart parking lot open. March 31st, 2015 was the final day of operations. After that they closed the doors and put up signs directing people one mile down the road to the Winnie location.

Now the building has sat empty for the last two years. But things might be looking up for this shopping center. A new casino is planned to go into the empty storefronts next to the Kmart building. It doesn’t signal a complete rebirth, and as yet there is no new tenant for the hulking Kmart building. But this will at least bring some traffic back to an empty parking lot, and could spur other businesses to relocate here. I don’t think we’ll ever see McDonald’s come back to this location, but one day some other restaurant might decide that it’s a pretty sweet spot to take a chance on.

Until then, the old McDonald’s remains closed and abandoned.


  1. We don’t need another casino. However this McDonald ‘s wad so poorly run I’m not surprised it closed. It was always filthy in the playground area, the drive thru was super slow and I guess who ever owned it thought it would get business solely on the name. I do miss the kmart. It was nice to have some choices on the north part of town.

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