Abner W. Sewell opened his first general merchandise store in the northeastern Nevada town of Tuscarora in 1897. A native of Ohio, Abner had ventured west with his brother in the 1880s, working as a cowboy on various Nevada ranches before entering the retail business. He and his wife, Katherine, had three sons, Abner, Harvey, and Herb, who followed in their father’s footsteps by opening the first Sewell’s Market in Elko in 1920.
In 1922, the Sewells came to Reno, opening their first store on Commercial Row and in 1942, building a second one at 445 South Sierra Street. By that time, Sewell’s had expanded throughout Nevada, with stores in Elko, Ely, Las Vegas, Winnemucca, Fallon, and Sparks.
By midcentury, small family markets were giving way to large supermarkets offering large varieties of goods and spacious parking lots. The Sewells embraced the shift and, in 1948, replaced their two smaller Reno branches with a large supermarket at 445 North Virginia Street (the future site of the Silver Legacy Hotel Casino).
Reno’s growth southward represented a new opportunity, and on December 10, 1959, the company opened another Sewell’s, identical in appearance to the North Virginia location, at 1331 South Virginia Street, between Arroyo and Pueblo Streets. A huge paved lot on the store’s north side offered parking for 200 cars, and the exterior was vitro-glazed in varying pastel shades of brown, beige and blue panels.
Inside, the décor oozed with charm. The four walls were painted soft pastel colors ranging from pink to aqua to beige. Cartoon-like wooden cut-out figures high on the walls above each department helped ease navigation, and butchers worked in clear view of the customers.
In 1966, the Sewell’s chain merged with Mayfair grocers, and by 1970, this location had closed. Statewide Lighting moved into the building in 1973 after dividing its main floor into three separate storefronts. There, Rader Rollins and his family sold lighting, accessories and, later, accent furniture, for private home building, custom construction, and regular retail customers. The family’s partner ran a corresponding Las Vegas store, prompting the adoption of the “statewide” name.
The building’s west end originally housed Nevada Bank of Commerce, later changing to Nevada National Bank, and eventually Nevada Fine Arts. Other building tenants have included a barbershop, a health food store, a butcher, and Hedwig & Ludman Interiors.