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Las Vegas journalists reflect on seeing Tony Hsieh from afar

AP Photo/John Locher

A sign hangs outside the headquarters of Zappos, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Las Vegas.

Tony Hsieh owned a lot of property in downtown Las Vegas. It was all part of his massive purchase of properties in his planned Downtown Project.

One of his properties was the Gold Spike, very close to his new Zappos headquarters in the former City Hall building on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Both State of Nevada news director and host Joe Schoenmann and Desert Companion deputy editor Heidi Kyser reported on Hsieh at the time. They got to know him to different degrees.

They met recently at the Gold Spike to give their perspectives on the new book about Hsieh's life and death.

Kyser moved to Southern Nevada in 2004, and hasn’t lived anywhere but downtown. Her perspective on Hsieh was as an outsider, she said, from her position at Vegas Seven magazine at the time.

Schoenmann was at the Las Vegas Sun and began a downtown column around the time Hsieh was getting national coverage for Zappos and the Downtown Project.

“I was so disturbed by the book that I read it in one day, I couldn't sleep,” Schoenmann said.

Kyser noted a description of Hsieh toward the end of the book: "full of so many contradictions, awkward but exceedingly fun, unfailingly generous, but lacking empathy."

She said she observed those same qualities in some of the shortcomings of Downtown Project.

“It had grand ambitions, but ignored the immediate needs of the neighborhood sometimes,” she said.

Still, Hsieh’s death is unclear – more questions arose than were answered. Before that, people were there trying to help.

“Tyler Williams, who really I think tried to go out of his way and then was excommunicated by Tony from the group for trying to cut off his drug supply,” Schoenmann recalled. But, given his fortune, “I don’t know if he had true, true friends.”

“My take on it is that something had started in the Arts District before Tony got here,” Kyser said. “And the interesting thing is that it is now, it still is, and so I don't know if he if his being here and the attention that he brought to downtown goosed that a little bit. Or if it would have happened anyway.”

Joe Schoenmann, news director/host, State of Nevada; Heidi Kyser, deputy editor, Desert Companion

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2024, Heidi was promoted to managing editor, charged with overseeing the Desert Companion and State of Nevada newsrooms.
Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.