Every year, Virginia City sees up to 1.4
million people — from near and far — funnel into its historic mining town
tucked in the hillside of the Sierra Nevada.
That won’t be the case this year.
Since the state shut down non-essential
businesses in mid-March amid, the only thing rolling into Virginia City —
filled primarily with tourist-packed bars, restaurants and shops — have been
“It became very dark here in Virginia City,”
Deny Dotson, tourism director of the Virginia City Tourism Commission, said in
a phone interview last week with the NNBW. “It became very still and quiet —
almost like a true ghost town.”
With the state entering phase one of Gov.
Steve Sisolak’s “Roadmap to Recovery for Nevada” on May 9, the lights are
slowly turning back on in the tourism-driven town located 20 miles southeast of
Dotson said roughly 75% of Virginia City
merchants opened their doors on May 9 while abiding by the state’s guidelines,
which includes limiting capacity to 50% and a requirement that “all employers
shall require employees who interact with the public to wear face coverings to
the maximum extent practicable,” according to the state.
Under phase one, Nevadans are still
encouraged to maintain six feet of social distancing and limit public
gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
Cutting the allowed occupancy in half is
undoubtedly a tough challenge for any business in Nevada to overcome. The fact
rings especially true for merchants in Virginia City, a town of less than a
thousand people that relies heavily on tourists to fuel its economy.
Nevada’s travel and tourism industry — which accounts for 40% of the state’s general fund revenue, according to the Nevada Resort Association — has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. According to personal finance website WalletHub, Nevada ranked third highest in a recent study of which states’ tourism industries have suffered the most during the COVID crisis.
“We’ve been basically relying on the locals,”
Dotson said. “We couldn’t actively market visitation to Virginia City. We tip
our hat to our locals, we came together as a community and they supported the
ones that were open.”
Despite strong local support, Dotson said
Virginia City’s revenue is projected to be down 25% for the current fiscal
year, which ends June 30. Zooming out, he’s projecting a 40% drop in revenue
for the forthcoming fiscal year.
He added: “That’s provided we still have a
In terms of marketing, Dotson said Virginia
City tourism officials are “walking the tightrope” of continually promoting the
historic town and supporting its merchants while also being “very careful” not
to attract too many visitors to town.
“It’s an awareness that we’re here,” he said.
“We always want to continue to do that. But, if we get too many people here, we
get in trouble with the standard of ‘no large groups and no more than 10
SPECIAL EVENTS EFFECT
This is an extraordinary challenge for a
community that is accustomed to holding an array of special events that lures
large crowds to town. Dotson said he is hopeful that Virginia City will be able
to continue on with its special events slate in the fall.
The town already took a big economic hit
after canceling one of its signature events in March, the 29th Rocky Mountain
Oyster Fry, which annually attracts roughly 6,000-7,500 visitors, according to
Virginia City’s chock-full fall calendar
includes the Virginia City Grand Prix and Chili on the Comstock (April and May
events, respectively, that were moved to October), the Street Vibrations Fall
Rally, International Camel and Ostrich Races, and World Championship Outhouse
Races, among others.
“I think the biggest
issue is if we have to cancel special events in Virginia City, it will be
devastating for the town,” Dotson said. “We just have a whole bunch of stuff
stacked for the fall. That’s going to be critical that we’re able to do those
in a safe manner that protects our residents and our merchants, but also allows
for visitation so that our merchants can benefit.”
Storey County Manager Austin Osborne agreed.
“For economic prosperity, events are
essential,” he told the NNBW. “Right now, we want to have economic recovery up
here, but at the same time create that balance where it’s protecting our
Osborne said county officials do not have a
goal of “returning to normalcy” right now. However, he said they have been
“fighting hard” for all of their local businesses throughout the pandemic, with
an increased focus on the merchants that have to remain closed under phase one.
Additionally, Osborne said the Storey County
Commissioners’ Office has been continually writing Gov. Sisolak’s office,
“pleading” the governor to allow rural communities to reopen its casinos, bars
and gymnasiums “with comprehensive plans for protection” in place.
“We’re not trying to regenerate our economy
back to where it was six months ago,” Osborne said. “What we’re trying to do is
allow our businesses to survive. We do not want our businesses to close their
door permanently because they are not allowed to open.”