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The Neon Museum in Las Vegas as seen on March 8, 2019. (Photo courtesy of The Neon Museum)

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.

As businesses and individuals navigate an uncertain future, they are getting creative.

The Nevada Independent will be sharing one of their stories each day. 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.

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Rob McCoy, CEO and president of The Neon Museum in Las Vegas on Oct. 14, 2019. (Photo courtesy of The Neon Museum)

When staff members at The Neon Museum in Las Vegas found out that they wouldn’t be able to welcome visitors for at least 30 days, per the governor's public health advisory, they hatched a plan to bring the museum to people.  

“Virtual tours” of the museum’s outdoor “boneyard” of vintage signs are available on a new web app. Online visitors just have to type in the password “Neon” to access photo, text and audio narration. 

“We thought to ourselves, what can we do to help folks, especially folks who love the museum worldwide? How can we keep them engaged in what we do?” Neon Museum President and CEO Rob McCoy said in an interview on Wednesday. 

The nonprofit museum continues to engage visitors also through its social media platforms and website with posts about the cultural significance of Las Vegas’ historic signs, such as the Stardust hotel-resort sign circa 1958, which McCoy said is the only sign in the museum's outdoor "boneyard" gallery to be in “atomic font.” 

But such spectacles of the past are facing an uncertain future, with the COVID-19 pandemic crippling the tourism industry. 

Ninety percent of ticket sales, the museum’s main revenue stream, come from tourists who worldwide have been instructed by their government to not travel, or who are less inclined to do so given economic downturns and orders to stay at home.

The analytics firm Applied Analysis predicted in March that Nevada’s tourism industry stands to lose $39 billion in the next 12 to 18 months, and that unemployment in Nevada could rise above 30 percent. 

After Gov. Sisolak ordered the closure of businesses for 30 days, the museum announced on Twitter that it would continue providing employees full pay and benefits. McCoy said that its contracted artist, Craig Winslow, and a team of employees are working on revamping the museum’s audiovisual show called “Brilliant!” which uses projection lighting set to music to illuminate non-working signs. 

The museum also is continuing with plans to construct a new 32,000-square-foot expansion. McCoy said the museum probably would not begin construction until summer, and that the opening, originally scheduled for the end of 2020, might have to be pushed “because of circumstances.” 

Although in-person visits and tours have ground to a halt, McCoy says the response that he has seen to the museum’s “Neon Museum from Home” campaign so far has been “more than what we hoped for.” 

“I would go back to Vegas Strong,” McCoy said, citing a tagline that became a unifying point for locals after the 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

“I think the closer we are to the community, and the closer the community is to us, it benefits everyone,” he said.  

Disclosure: Mike PeQueen, the board treasurer for The Nevada Independent, also sits on the board of the Neon Museum.

This story was updated at 11:00 a.m. to correct that the Stardust sign is the only sign in atomic font in the museum's outdoor gallery.

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