Reno Businesses React To Statewide Closure: Creative Solutions, Voluntary Closures, Unemployment

Mar 19, 2020

As coronavirus social distancing continues to be encouraged in Nevada by local and state officials, a mandatory 30-day closure of non-essential businesses statewide has been issued by Governor Steve Sisolak.

Unprecedented changes and new public gathering restrictions have left small business owners questioning their future.

Restrictions include statewide closures of all non-essential businesses, forcing beauty shops, gyms, bars, casinos and restaurants to close.

Before the mandated closures, some businesses had voluntarily made their own restrictions, like Pangolin Cafe, a 5-month-old business in Midtown, which closed its dine-in area before officials instructed.

“Honestly, no. We didn't see a slowdown and I think that was part of the conversation with my business partner. We're not seeing a slowdown on our side. We’re waiting for the governor to make an announcement, we’re waiting for the mayor to make an announcement and none of that was happening. We needed to do something because we were tired of waiting for someone to make that decision,” said Joel Stewart said, co-owner of Pangolin Cafe.

Stewart said the decision was hard, but they felt it was their duty to help keep people healthy. After the Governor’s announcement, Pangolin Cafe decided to stop their curbside services and online orders, and distance every employee for 14 days, with a mission to take care of their team.

“We just want to make sure that no one is getting sick, so we've told our employees, ‘We can't monitor what you’re doing or where you’re going, but we want you to take this very seriously. We’re paying you to stay home and we’re trusting you’re going to do the right thing.’ ” Stewart said. “When we get back, I assume it's still going to be an issue, so we don't want to be a vector in the community at all.”

Stewart and his business partner will pay their four employees their full wages for 14 days and continue to negotiate revised wages if the days grow longer. Stewart moved to Reno from Portland a year ago and he said it's been heartwarming to see locals rally for small businesses. They even experienced people buying and giving away gift cards in support of their cafe.

On Virginia Street, you’ll find Rounds Bakery, a wholesale bakery and food manufacturer that has converted their restaurant into a marketplace and bakery in response to the pandemic.

Anton Novak owns the restaurant with his husband, Sean, who said he supports the closures to prevent the spread of the virus, but the couple has had to rethink their business model.

“He and I are always thinking, like the whole idea that we are going to mass produce loaves of bread. We can be everyone's bread source when there’s no guarantee that you're going to get a loaf of bread at the store. You can call in and order bread with us and it'll be ready the next day,” Novak said.

While some businesses have been able to substitute their regular production for something more innovative, others won't be able to do so.

Tyler Colton is the owner of The Emerson, a relatively new cocktail lounge in Reno. He had to let go of his staff for the time being and is encouraging his employees to file for unemployment.

“They do agree. They knew it was a hard call, but they're happy that we're doing it [for] all of us in the end. For myself, I have elderly parents. My bar manager has older parents. I have a brother who has asthma,” Colton said. “We have people who are vulnerable and we’ve all discussed that being in an industry that so many people come in-and-out of constantly, that we are then jeopardizing their health, because we don't know who we've been around.”

Many businesses were supportive of the closures, but some felt like there might have been other measures to take into consideration first.

Batuhan Zadeh is the owner of Hookava, a local hookah lounge in downtown Reno. Zadeh ordered thousands of individual disposable hookah hoses, to help prevent the spread of the virus, that won't be used.

“ ‘Why don't the businesses just close down?’ They don't understand the business impact that we have,” Zadeh said. “We have a lot of employees who not only live paycheck to paycheck but are behind on their bills. They're working from behind. It's not like they're going to miss out on their bills. They already have bills that they're missing out on. They have service debts that are already due.”

Zadeh has applied for the SBA low-interest loan through Nevada's Disaster Relief Fund and said he will use the funds to pay his 18 employees. He said he’s being proactive, rather than reactive, and his advice to business owners is to get after it.

“Get ready for when you open,” Zadeh said. “Don't waste this time while you're closed. I would say, while you're closed, make sure that when you open you hit the ground running. Schedule as many events as possible [and] go crazy. There’s going to be so many people cooped up in their homes that when they come out, they're going to want to go to events. They're going to want to be social.”

Despite the obstacles, some businesses are seeing a spike in customers because of their ability to deliver food. That includes Mother of Macros Meal Prep, a food manufacturer that preps gluten-free meals using meat that is locally sourced out of Minden.

“Nationwide, the orders have been pouring in, so we’ve definitely seen a business spike,” Mother of Macros Meal Prep Owner Alyssa Starr said.

Starr said she's been shipping meals across the state, as far as Boston, Florida and North Carolina.

“Everything is going out on time and we are not being held up at all,” Starr said. “We are working extended hours and extended days to make it happen.”

She said her team has truly stepped up their normal sanitization practices, wearing masks during food production and washing their hands so often that they’re in need of lotion.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced that Nevada has received statewide approval for SBA government low-interest federal loans for small businesses.

As a note of disclosure, Rounds Bakery is a financial supporter of KUNR.