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Wild River Grille owner, Chuck Shapiro, poses for a portrait on Feb. 28, 2018 inside his dining room in Reno. (Photo provided by Wild River Grille)

Casinos locked their doors Wednesday evening, small businesses sent emails notifying customers they would be closing because of COVID-19, and lawmakers urged citizens to purchase gift cards as a way to support local shops.

Workers throughout the state are facing layoffs and financial uncertainties as businesses begin to close their doors to reduce and prevent the proliferation of COVID-19, per Gov. Steve Sisolak’s guidance to close all ‘non-essential’ businesses for the next 30 days.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, more than 40 percent of total private-sector employment in Nevada falls within the categories of leisure, hospitality, or retail, meaning that two out of every five jobs in Nevada are in these industries. The institute projects the state will lose 5.3 percent of private-sector jobs, or nearly 67,000 — not to mention private contractors or other industries dependent upon local businesses for advertising funds and those affected by decreased consumer spending.

As businesses and individuals navigate an uncertain future, they are getting creative — a Reno distillery is using its alcohol to make hand sanitizer and a coffee shop created a social media campaign they called “#localdollars.” Some restaurants are decreasing hours, but promising to feed employees.

The Nevada Independent will be sharing some of their stories starting today. If you are a Nevada business owner or worker whose job has been upended by coronavirus, we’d love to feature your story. Send an email to [email protected] for consideration. 

At Reno’s Wild River Grille, survival could hinge on duration of shutdown

Chuck Shapiro’s restaurant in Reno, Wild River Grille, has been open for 13 years. He said before COVID-19, business was going well, but as the virus spread, he began to see a decline in customers and revenues.

He said he closed everything down within hours of hearing Reno’s announcement to close all non-essential businesses.

“I figured we should just do our part and go ahead and suspend operations for a while,” he said. “I’m really blessed that we have a super awesome crew and virtually all of them have said, ‘just call me when we can open and they’ll come back.’ … But, if we were able to reopen in three weeks, I think I’d get the whole staff back.”

Right now, Shapiro is most worried about his staff and what they will do without a source of income.

“A lot of people in the service industry, they’re super hardworking. This is their job. This is how they pay their rent. This is how they live. This is how they put food on their table. And so it can be really devastating to them,” he said.

He added that even though the Wild River Grille managed to weather the great recession when development projects came to a screeching halt and money was tight, he is worried about the long-term ramifications of business closures.

“The more time that it takes is going to be the measure of how damaging it really is. I can take the hit, but if it goes on for a long, long time, it’s going to be pretty tough to recover from,” he said. “[The recession] was tough to get through, but we were open and at least people had somewhere to go to drink.”

One key point Shapiro kept reiterating was how his restaurant was fortunate enough to probably survive the pandemic, but other local restaurants might not be as lucky.

“I can take the hit where there’s a lot of little restaurants that can’t, so the little Midtown restaurants and stuff that are still doing takeout and curbside and all that, people should totally try to do what they can to keep them afloat,” he said noting that gift card sales can be a great way to help local businesses struggling to survive.

Right now, he is selling gift cards to his restaurant and splitting the proceeds with local theater groups located near his restaurant that are trying to survive. He said it is a way he can give back to a community that provides him with business and remains hopeful for the future.

“I’m sure when this, when this passes, you know, people are going to, there’s going to be a lot of cabin fever,” he said with a laugh.

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