‘It’s been a ghost town’: Businesses in Virginia City fight to stay afloat
VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. — Mandy Manyose’s phone kept ringing.
It was the evening of Tuesday, March 17, minutes after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered all of Nevada’s nonessential businesses — everything from restaurants to gyms to casinos — to close for 30 days to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Manyose owns The Roasting House, a coffeehouse/restaurant in the historic town of Virginia City, located 20 miles southeast of Reno.
While the governor’s mandate still allows restaurants to offer curbside takeout and delivery to customers, Manyose knew her shop — already suffering from Virginia City’s lack of visitors due to the virus — was going to be hit hard.
“My immediate reaction was sorrow because my phone instantly started ringing from all of my employees wanting to know what was going to happen,” Manyose told the NNBW. “And I kind of knew the answers immediately but put that off while I could get myself together.”
‘LIKE A WATER FAUCET BEING TURNED OFF’
Virginia City’s small businesses, the majority of which fall in the “nonessential” category, rely heavily on a steady stream of tourists to keep the lights on.
And this time of year, springtime, is typically when the flow of visitors starts to pick up after the traditionally slower winter season.
Needless to say, that spring uptick won’t be seen anytime soon — for now, at least.
“Tourism is what we thrive on, and that’s been devastated, obviously,” Deny Dotson, tourism director of the Virginia City Tourism Commission, said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “After the governor declared the emergency and nonessential businesses to close, it was like a water faucet being turned off, immediately.”
In fact, Virginia City, a town of less than a thousand people, had to cancel one of its signature events, the 29th Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry, which annually attracts roughly 6,000-7,500 visitors.
“We were bound and determined to have that event as we have for 30 years,” Dotson said. “But we saw what was happening in the United States and we knew we couldn’t go forward with it. At that point, we knew this was going to be something that we’d never seen before.”
With no event and no flood of tourists, Manyose said the Roasting House’s sales, when compared to the 2019 Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry weekend, were down 60% on March 13 and down 70% on March 14.
“The starting point (of the sales drop) for all of us was when they canceled the oyster fry,” Manyose said. “It’s a steep dive from an event to this.”
‘IT’S BEEN A GHOST TOWN’
For Judy Cohen, owner of the Silver Stope, a jewelry and gift shop, she closed her doors indefinitely for the first time since opening 19 years ago in Virginia City.
“It’s been a ghost town,” Cohen told the NNBW. “This is my 19th year here … and it feels and looks very strange. March is sometimes very good, and it’s just been dead.”
Cohen said she closed her shop on March 17 after making zero sales.
“Most of these businesses are individually-owned, they’re families, and mom-and-pop shops like mine,” Cohen said. “Their salaries, operating expenses, everything, comes from the business and the sales. So, it’s really hard.”
After closing shop, Cohen said she immediately did a full audit of her business, adding: “I wanted to know exactly how much the business could last with the money I had in the bank account.”
Once the state’s shutdown of nonessential businesses passes, whether that remains 30 days or is extended, Cohen said she “absolutely” plans to reopen The Silver Stope.
“I’ve always believed in emergency funds,” said Cohen, noting she’s been saving for years. “I just think a person should be prepared for any eventuality. I’ve prepared every year just in case.”
FACING CHALLENGES AHEAD
Some business owners like Manyose, who’s owned The Roasting House for less than five years, haven’t had the opportunity to stash away cash over an extended period of time.
Even still, Manyose knew that her coffeehouse was entering shaky terrain after pivoting to curbside pickup and deliveries within Virginia City and Gold Hill.
That reality snapped into focus for Manyose immediately after Sisolak’s 30-day order triggered a flurry of phone calls from her team on March 17. Keeping her full staff, she realized, wouldn’t make sense.
“We have completely cut three staff members as of now,” Manyose said. “It’s very, very challenging from a professional standpoint and an emotional standpoint. Having to let go of good staff is hard; having to make those kinds of decisions is tough.
“We have three other staff that we’re still working with as long as we can.”
With that in mind, Manyose was quick to credit the residents of Virginia City for keeping her business up and running during the shutdown.
“Our local community is always important to us year-round, but right now, it’s everything,” she said. “Without them, there would be no point in trying to make this curbside thing go.”
To that end, Manyose said the business owners also have to support each other through this period of uncertainty. She’s even exploring ways to help fellow merchants, such as selling gift cards of businesses that are completely closed at The Roasting House’s curbside pickup.
“It’s vital if we’re going to come back from this for the merchants to pull together for this community,” she said. “To pull together so that we can have a vibrant town to come back to once this is all finished.”
The cuts would come as a direct result of reduced tax collections caused by business closures across the Silver State due to the COVID-19 pandemic.