Small businesses in ‘dire straits,’ fear losing everything, Vegas Chamber CEO says

By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

Some Southern Nevada small businesses are at the breaking point because of Nevada’s coronavirus economic shutdown, Mary Beth Sewald, the president and CEO of the Vegas Chamber, said on Nevada Newsmakers.

“It is a very dire time for our businesses,” Sewald told host Sam Shad. “They are concerned they are going to lose their entire life savings, that their entire livelihood is going to be gone.”

Business evaporated across Nevada in mid-March, when Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered all non-essential businesses, including casinos, to close. Since then, more than 400,000 Nevadans have filed for unemployment as the state’s unemployment level hit 17 percent, the highest in state history.


Sisolak plans to lift the statewide stay-at-home order next week and that may help business pick up, especially with the approval of curbside pickups for various businesses. Yet the state must still reach four benchmarks — including a consistent statistical decline in COVID-19 infections — before more businesses are allowed to open, Sisolak has mandated.

“We commend him for working to keep those of us in Nevada safe,” Sewald said of the governor. “He has a lot of experts who are surrounding him and he’s trying to keep people safe and to keep people healthy.”

Yet some Chamber members have grown impatient with Sisolak’s plan and worried about the future, Sewald said

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

“On the other side of that coin — from our members — they are saying, “We are in dire straits. The longer we stay closed the harder it will be to ever restart our community or our economy again. And some of them are saying they are going out of business completely.”

“So it is a fine line the state is trying to walk,” she said.

Sewald said small businesses “are the fabric of our community. They are our lifeblood.”

Yet for any economic revitalization for Southern Nevada to happen, the tourism and convention businesses must get going again, Sewald said.

Visitors to Las Vegas spent about $35 billion in 2018, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Almost 368,000 jobs in the area were supported by tourism, generating almost $16 billion in salaries and wages. The 2018 statistics were the latest available from the LVCVA.

There is still no answer as to when tourism and conventions will return, Sewald said.

“Part of what is going to dictate the economy of Las Vegas, Southern Nevada and the whole state is when people feel comfortable traveling again,” she said.

When asked when that would be, Sewald said: “That would be the million-dollar question. If we had the answer, we’d be living on a yacht somewhere in the Caribbean.””I really have not heard any date,” she said…. “It really depends on when the state opens back up and people feel confident to travel.”

When businesses are allowed to welcome back customers, the owners may face the potential of a new problem. Some are concerned that customers or employees could file lawsuits against a business, claiming they were infected with COVID-19 while at that business. So far, no indemnity has been established in Nevada to protect businesses from that.

“A lot of our members are concerned already,” Sewald said. “You have not only employees but anytime we invite outside folks to events like the Chamber does or when we invite patrons into our place of business, there is potentially the risk of folks getting sick.”

Sewald offered this advice:

“It behooves all of our organizations to take seriously what you can do with the social distancing, sanitation and all of the steps like that,” she said.

“It is also important for people to realize the onus, so far, will be on the folks who get sick to be able to prove it (where they were infected),” she said. “It is going to be very difficult to prove where a person did get sick. All companies, all of us want people to stay healthy and safe and take every precaution we possibly can because the last thing anybody would want is for somebody to get sick.” Sewald urged businesses to prepare for the liability issue.

“It is a challenging time that business are trying to navigate right now,” she said. “We’re recommending that companies speak with their attorneys, even talk with your accountants, to make sure that you are well aware and fully prepared when you do open your doors again.”

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