Small businesses in Verdi staying afloat thanks to loyal local following
VERDI, Nev. — Typically, the Cozy Cattery in Verdi, a boarding and grooming resort for cats, is fully booked during the week of Independence Day. Of course, the year 2020 has been anything but typical.
“Fourth of July should’ve been sold out,” Krista Lindberg, co-owner of the Cozy Cattery, said with a shrug. “But, boarding business is definitely down — people are not traveling.”
It’s no secret: The coronavirus pandemic has caused many people to cancel their summer vacations — and getaway plans altogether — opting to for staycations or day-trips close to home. For animal owners, that means more time in quarantine with their furry friends.
For boarding businesses like the Cozy Cattery, that means fewer cats — and less cash flow — coming through the door.
The impact of the COVID crisis, Lindberg said, was felt immediately after the state shut down in mid-March.
“Spring Break, it just went right down the tubes and everything else that follows it,” said Lindberg, noting her client base comes from all over Northern Nevada and Lake Tahoe. “I’m kind of in the same boat as the hotels and the planes. If you’re not going anywhere, you’re not boarding your pets.”
Consequently, the Cozy Cattery’s boarding revenue has dropped 60% compared to last year, Lindberg said. Helping softening the blow, however, is the fact that the company’s grooming revenue is up roughly 20%, she noted.
“I think people are tired of sitting at home with all of the hair,” said Lindberg, adding that her and the cattery’s two employees are grooming 20-30 cats a week. “That’s keeping us busy and able to stay afloat.”
The Cozy Cattery is one of a handful of businesses dotting Old Highway 40 in Verdi, the unincorporated community straddling the Truckee River, a stone’s throw west of Reno.
While many Reno-Sparks businesses have a fast-growing population to lean on for support, establishments in Verdi have a much smaller pool of consumers to rely on. While Verdi has surely grown and expanded over the past decade, the community’s population is a mere 1,415, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau.
Sure, folks from the greater Reno-Tahoe area have always popped in now and then, but in a time when people are even more hesitant to leave the house, Verdi is even more reliant on its loyal local customers.
Just ask Jason Tolotti, owner of the Sasquatch Tavern and Grill in Verdi.
Despite being limited to a 50% capacity — meaning fewer tables and spread-out barstools — Tolotti said Sasquatch’s sales in June were about 90% of what they were the same month last year. He credits that to the support of the tight-knit local community of Verdi.
“It’s remarkable to see those numbers,” said Tolotti, who also owns the six Flowing Tide pubs in Reno-Sparks and one in Las Vegas. “We have a very loyal and excellent local following out there (in Verdi). And they’ve cultivated relationships with our bartenders and our servers.
“Thank god for that community.”
Just down the road, Jeremy Baumann, owner of Verdi Local Distillery, echoes Tolotti’s sentiment.
“We’ve seen people stocking up on stuff because they’re trying to support us, and we’ve sold a bunch of hand sanitizer to people and local businesses,” said Baumann, noting the distillery’s revenue was up 20% in May before dropping 20% in June. “Obviously, sales are down. But, selling hand sanitizer kind of filled the void for us, and was a nice way for us to help out, and keep my employees on.”
Notably, when the pandemic hit the region in March, Verdi Local Distillery, which has two other full-time employees, produced and donated “large quantities” of alcohol-based disinfecting gel to area hospitals, EMTs, nursing homes and more, Baumann said.
While the 820-square-foot distillery — which operates out of a renovated rustic house built in the 1930s — was closed to the public for two and a half months before reopening in late May, Baumann said he took that as an opportunity to get creative and improve his business.
Right off the bat, Verdi Local launched an online store, something Baumann said he’s “always wanted to do, but never took the time to do it.”
Moreover, Baumann and his staff created five new canned cocktails; produced new whiskeys (peanut butter and coffee, for example); began experimenting with grains its never distilled before; and finished up its expanded outdoor bar and seating area in the back, which can accommodate more than 20 people with social distancing guidelines.
In fact, with social distancing mandated, Verdi Local no longer allows patrons to drink inside its small indoor space because “as soon as you walk in the door, you’re just about six feet from somebody,” Baumann said with a laugh.
“I think it’s been cool having to change some stuff and think differently,” he continued. “I think a lot of business owners enjoy that; they’re getting creative and they’re forced to be creative. I think that’s a positive side of it.”
“The thing that I like most about entrepreneurship is I can work toward something that I’m passionate about and be at the forefront of the change that I want to see happen,” said Priyanka Senthil, a senior at Davidson Academy in Reno and co-founder of startup company AUesome.