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Nevada Businesses Pivot To Survive The Covid-19 Shutdown

Boarded-up stores and bars on Main Street in Las Vegas.
Chris Smith/Desert Companion

Boarded-up stores and bars on Main Street in Las Vegas.

Businesses throughout the state have been impacted by COVID-19, from lost revenue to layoffs.

It’s forced some businesses to consider drastic measures to accommodate social distancing and personal safety, and some to ponder whether to close permanently. 

But others have tried to weather the storm with alternative business plans. They’ve gone from brick-and-mortar to online sales, and they’ve pivoted from their usual products to those in demand due to the pandemic. 

One of those businesses is the Las Vegas Distillery, which makes vodka, rum, whiskey and other spirits. 

Klaudia Morales, who manages the distillery, said one of the main parts of the business was the tasting room and tours, but those had to close because of Gov. Steve Sisolak's order.

Their business slowed dramatically under the order until the federal government allowed distilleries around the country to make hand sanitizer.

The distillery took the equipment and ingredients it normally uses to make vodka and turned it into hand sanitizer. They actually had to lower the alcohol level because they can make 190 proof alcohol - hand sanitizer just needs to be 80 proof.

Morales explained they add ingredients to make it taste bad so people won't consume it, and then add glycerine so it doesn't dry people's skin. It is not gel sanitizer, but a liquid because they're not permitted to add the thickening agents under the current federal regulations.

She said as soon as the distillery was allowed to make and sell hand sanitizer, sales skyrocketed.

"It is overwhelming," Morales said, "We've had a lot of demand. We were overwhelmed a bit." 

She said it takes a week to go from milling the corn to making the sanitizer, which meant it took a while to get the product together to get to customers. 

Morales said most of the product is going to health care workers and essential businesses that are open but are struggling to find enough sanitizer.

Another business that has found a new way to get along during the shutdown is Rebar. It's a tavern in the Arts District downtown.

Owner Derek Stonebarger has started the website Boardwalk Liquorsand is offering online ordering with curbside pickup.

The idea came to him after he closed his bar because of the lockdown order. He had thousands of dollars worth of beer, wine and liquor sitting in storerooms, threatening to go bad.

He created the website and within hours people were buying items from his store. 

"It was on a Sunday morning when it launched, and I was in tears because I knew I could save my business and I could bring some of my employees back to work," he said.

Stonebarger credited the city for pushing through changes to regulations that allowed his business and others in the city to try new business models. 

“The city of Las Vegas was willing to pivot quickly to give businesses a chance to try to save their business while providing a desperately needed service to the citizens of Southern Nevada,” he said.

Now, Boardwalk Liquor is also selling food, including steak, avocados, chicken, taco kits and vacuum-sealed charcuterie boards.

In addition, the online bodega is offering cocktail kits and beers from local breweries. 

Stonebarger didn't stop there. He is also selling masks, gloves, toilet paper and paper towels. He's getting his supplies through restaurant suppliers and Costco professional services.

He said everything is prepared by his staff, who are wearing gloves and masks.

While most people know that restaurants and bars have closed, the economic impact of the shutdown is being felt by other businesses as well. Thompson Tees is a local clothing company that created an undershirt that helps wick away sweat more efficiently than cotton.

Billy Thompson is the co-founder and co-owner of Thompson Tees. Because they own their own warehouse and are an online retailer, they were allowed to stay open. 

However, when consumer spending dropped, they saw their sales plummet.

"It was pretty immediate," he said. "I would say over a one week period, where we thought we were okay ... all of a sudden, consumer spending dropped, and of course, like a lot of other businesses, we were crippled and we lost upwards of 50 percent of our business seemingly overnight."

But with a pattern maker on staff, sewers in California and fabric supplies at the ready, Thompson Tees moved to making masks.

Thompson said they have made tens of thousands of masks. For every three masks they sell, they donate masks to hospitals that need them.

The masks are priced at $5.99. Thompson said he was unhappy to see companies making masks and charging a lot of money for them. They are not aiming to make a lot of money on the project.

"Nobody is looking to get rich here," he said. "We're just looking to weather the storm because time and money are the two things that are going to get you through this pandemic and eventually get back to whatever the new normal is."

Thompson said the demand for the masks has been enormous.

Just like the Las Vegas Distillery and Thompson Tees, Stonebarger said there are ways for businesses to get creative and connect with customers. He said customers want to give businesses they like their money, but businesses have to give them a chance. 

He held a webinar on Tuesday about ways to change a business model while the world battles the coronavirus. 

Klaudia Morales, manager, Las Vegas Distillery;  Derek Stonebarger, owner, Rebar and Boardwalk Liquors;  Billy Thompson, president and co-founder, Thompson Tee.


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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.