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Some Las Vegas businesses flout coronavirus closure directive

Updated March 19, 2020 - 3:23 pm

Many so-called nonessential businesses in Southern Nevada were closed Thursday in response to the governor’s call for them to shut down. Others remained open and were attempting to walk the fine line of providing products or services without endangering the health of employees and customers.

Others were open and making no pretense about following the recommendations put forward by Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday, when he announced he was ordering the closure of the state’s casinos and strongly urged nonessential businesses to close their doors.

The Heart Attack Grill, a mainstay on Fremont Street downtown, posted on Instagram that it was keeping its dining area open in defiance of Sisolak’s call for all restaurants to move to pickup or delivery only or close.

“None of that take-out-only c—,” said the post, which was later removed from the site.

Despite the restaurant being one of the only ones in town with an open dining room, business was slow in the afternoon, with only three or four customers sitting well apart from one another.

Calls to the restaurant’s owner, Jon Basso, for comment were not returned.

Most other open businesses surveyed Thursday by the Review-Journal were not quite as up-front in flaunting the closure directive.

The Henderson Big’s Furniture, which has two stores in the Las Vegas Valley, had its front doors wide open around noon and a handful of customers looking around inside.

Two managers at the store on West Sunset Road — who declined to provide their names — said customers were picking up orders and shopping, and furniture was being delivered.

“Customers are at home, so they need their furniture,” one of the managers said.

Store employees did not always appear to be following the recommended 6-foot “social distancing” separation, with one employee sitting face-to-face with customers across a desk.

The other manager said employees have been disinfecting surfaces in the store for two weeks. But customer numbers have dropped off.

“Huge,” he said about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the store. “It’s hurting everybody.”

He said he’s on salary, but his sales associates get paid strictly on commission. “My guys need to make money to support their families.”

Conn’s HomePlus, which sells furniture, mattresses and home appliances, also was open, but with reduced hours and staffing. There were few people in the store at 1:30 p.m.

A manager at the store on East Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas said he wasn’t authorized to comment and directed the Review-Journal to the corporate office. But he maintained the store is considered an essential business since it sells home appliances such as refrigerators.

Best Buy on Marks Street in Henderson had its entrance blocked, but two employees were outside checking in customers who were looking for help with their electronic devices, picking up an order or wanting to shop inside.

The employees told people they could wait in their cars until they got a text message saying an associate was available before entering the store. Wait times in the morning were running about 20 minutes.

Best Buy has chosen to stay open in a “very limited capacity so we can serve the very real needs of our customers in this critical situation,” company spokesman Kevin Flanagan wrote in an email Thursday to the Review-Journal.

The company has seen a surge in the number of Nevada residents seeking household technology in order to work from home and for their children to do schoolwork remotely, Flanagan said.

“We also have a lot of customers coming to us for things they need to store and prepare food for their families — like refrigerators and freezers,” he said.

But Best Buy is making changes in its Nevada stories, including a maximum of 10 customers inside a store at any given time and maintaining recommended social distancing guidelines, Flanagan said.

Employees won’t be forced to work if they’re not comfortable doing so, he said, and will get paid if they’re sick or need to take care of children at home. They’re also being paid for their regularly scheduled hours, even with stores having reduced hours and staffing due to COVID-19, he said.

At Fashion Show mall in Las Vegas, no shoppers could be seen when the doors were unlocked about 30 minutes before noon.

All but one store was shuttered — a GameStop, where a lone employee tended the empty video gaming store. A sign on the window stated that because of COVID-19 concerns, only 10 shoppers at a time would be allowed inside.

The employee declined to comment.

Elsewhere, most escalators were off and overhead lights were dimmed or shut off in some parts of the mall.

The food court was also deserted, save for one woman working at the currency exchange counter.

No pop hits were playing through mall’s speaker system, the silence of people not shopping only occasionally being broken by the sounds of construction on an upper level or static from security guards’ radios.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

Contact Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter.

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