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New normal ‘a little different’ for Vegas Businesses, but many happy to be back

In surgical masks, the stylists at this downtown Las Vegas barbershop cut their clients hair in work stations separated by plastic-curtain barriers.

The four barbers and their clients were spread across the spacious shop in following strict social distancing standards in their return after nearly two months from coronavirus business closures. For the time being, this is the a new normal in Nevada.

But “it feels good” to be open again, said Michael Jones, owner at A Cut Above the Rest, as he touched up a client’s fade with clippers. “I’m happy to be back at work.”

At 12:01 a.m. Saturday, businesses deemed nonessential during the coronavirus pandemic were allowed to welcome clients again, albeit with capacity capped at 50%, employees required to wear face covers, and other social distancing and sanitation measures.

As soon as Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced this weekend would be the beginning of the state’s gradual reopening of the economy, Chad Colom booked his appointment to visit Jones. His professional cut, he said, was long overdue, a “godsend.”

On a normal Saturday, before the pandemic upended the heart of always-crowded downtown and Arts District, finding a parking spot would be a challenge. Although that wasn’t the case Saturday, there were tepid signs of the old life.

At the Makeshift Union Cutting and Grooming Company, a few stylists were spread across the mostly empty Americana-style salon. That was by design.

Only half the staff will be allowed to come in at a time to leave space for physical distancing, said Haley Banks, one of the stylists. Like in the barbershop, there will only be one client allowed inside per worker, and walk up appointments aren’t welcome.

Early arrivals to the salon have to wait in their cars, while those arriving late will have to reschedule because each stylist is leaving 15-minute gaps between service to disinfect their station, she said.

Banks said the salon’s appointment schedule was full within 15 minutes after Sisolak announced the restrictions were being eased. On Saturday, she was booked until May 19.

She noted that having to wear masks will get some getting used to. “Getting back to work is a little weird,” she said. “A little different.”

She said that cosmetology school prepared stylists to properly clean and disinfect their stations and equipment. The salon workers had taken online classes on COVID-19 mitigation steps, and a refresher on using the Barbicide, which is used in salons to disinfect grooming tools.

As it stands now, the business model is sustainable, Jones said, noting that safety was most important. “We’re thinking about our customers more than we’re thinking about ourselves. We don’t want to close again,” she said.

Both Jones and Banks mentioned being relieved about again having a flow of income.

The patio seating at Tacotarian, a plant-based Mexican restaurant in downtown, had tables separated 6 feet apart.

Kristen Corral, one of the restaurant’s owners, said they wanted to be methodical and ease into reopening, so that they do it right. The restaurant plans to offer limited in-dining in the future, as Sisolak moves through the other recovery phases.

For now, all staffers have disposable personal protective equipment, and customers who do walk inside, even to use the bathroom, are required to cover their face, she said. In one of several posters taped outside the business announcing the mask zones, a luchador wears a surgical mask. Thinking about employee safety, Corral said both Tacotarian locales closed for six weeks until May 5 when they began offering curbside pickup. Government stimulus aid allowed them to bring back their staff and put them on payroll.

Noting it was nerve-wracking to return, Corral said that “it’s an exciting time to move forward.”

Patrick, a worker at the Allegiant Stadium construction site who didn’t want to give his last name, ate a Frito pie on the Tacotarian patio with his girlfriend. He moved to Las Vegas to work in January, but since the business closures, he’s been confined to a hotel room. On Saturday, he and his girlfriend, Leslie Sorenson, were happy to be out.

“I feel comfortable and confident that everything is good and I feel excited everybody else is starting to feel the same way,” Patrick said. 

George Lovitt, owner of Antique Alley Mall in the Arts District, said the business is taking safety seriously, calling for everyone who comes inside to wear a mask. A few patrons didn’t have face covering and were asked to leave, he said.

Closing a business like his for several weeks, Lovitt said, is economically taxing. There’s still utility bills and “all the other crap you have to pay regardless of whether you’re open or not,” he said.

Jeff Anthony, owner of Vintage Vegas Antiques in the Arts District, said the reopening served as a reminder that he belongs to a community — one that is working together.

On Saturday, he estimated that 25 people had walked into his store, which he runs with his wife and another employee. He said the pandemic hit businesses during a busy season, which usually includes a spike in visitors from events like Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly festival.

“It’s just part of life, I guess,” he said. “You just have to take it.”

Borrowing from the iconic adage, Anthony believes Las Vegas will come back stronger. “If you open, they will come,” he said. “We’re here.”

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