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Virginia City Reopens, A 'Calculated Risk'

Liza McIlwee standing behind a bar counter with a face mask and holding sanitizer spray bottles.
Brian Bahouth
The Sierra Nevada Ally
Liza McIlwee was the tourism assistant in the Virginia City Visitor’s Center on Saturday, May 9. The center is inside what was the “Crystal Bar” on C Street.";s:3:

On Saturday, many retail businesses across the state reopened for the first time in 51 days, after having been shuttered due to nonessential business closures in mid-March. Brian Bahouth of The Sierra Nevada Ally visited Virginia City as several shops opened their doors.

Packs of motor cycles and cars once again competed for parking on C Street. Roughly 2/3rds of the shops in town were open. Almost every store owner and worker wore a mask, but most people who meandered along the boardwalks and in and out of shops did not. Liza McIlwee was the tourism assistant in the Virginia City Visitor’s Center on Saturday.

“The mood in town I think is very optimistic. I myself have mixed feelings,” McIlwee said through her mask, an odd accessory when contrasted with her late 19th Century-period dress. “Our numbers (of COVID-19 cases) are relatively low in the Quad County, and here in Storey County we're still at zero for a number of cases. Hopeful that people coming up here isn't going to spike an outbreak up here.”

Politics is as evident on C Street as fudge or candy, and Trump 2020 signs are nearly as prevalent as American flags. A 4-foot wide Trump flag hung on the Virginia City Mercantile. Tom Quigley owns the business and handed out root beer candies on the boardwalk.

Exterior of the Virginia City Mercantile
Credit Brian Bahouth / The Sierra Nevada Ally
The Sierra Nevada Ally
The Virginia City Mercantile in Virginia City, Nev. on Saturday, May 9.

“Everything is a gamble,” Quigley said. “It's a calculated risk. You made a gamble coming up the hill today on that windy road. You made a risk. You decided it was worth the risk to come up here, didn't you?” Quigley asked me.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well there you go. Same thing. We cannot all sit at home huddled in the dark waiting on our government checks to show up. It ain't gonna work,” Quigley said.

Bars can technically sell liquor at the curb, and a crowd of at least 25 people gathered in front of the Virginia City Cigar and Bar, drinking alcohol on the boardwalk on Saturday. Social distancing protocols were ignored, and none of the people I observed wore a mask.

KUNR Contributor Brian Bahouth is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Sierra Nevada Ally. To read more on this topic, visit The Sierra Nevada Ally.

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