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Minority-Owned Business Hit Hard By Coronavirus Shutdown

Chris Smith/Desert Companion

March 23 many streets in downtown Las Vegas were empty.

With social distancing rules, masks and deep cleaning procedures in place, businesses across the valley are slowly coming back to life. 

But the struggle to return from the closures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 is more difficult for some minority-owned businesses. 

Asian-run businesses in Las Vegas have been hit hard because the first reported infections of the virus were found in China.  

Sonny Vinuya is the President and CEO of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, with more than 650 members. He said many businesses like tour companies and restaurants cater to conference-goers from Asian.

Since conventions and travel from Asian have ground to a halt, those businesses are struggling.

“Since we still don’t have travelers from China a lot of them are not getting the revenue or the business that they were accustomed to before COVID-19,” Vinuya said.

He said businesses that cater to locals are doing better. Out of the 650 members of the Asian Chamber, 150 are food and beverage establishments. 

Those businesses have had to cut capacity.

“The problem is some of them… are smaller size and then when you cut the capacity in half. They start wondering if the revenue that they’ll generate with that half is enough,” Vinuya said.

Vinuya said about 10 percent of the chamber members have closed and at least three might close permanently.

Businesses have applied for Small Business Administration loans and received them but Vinuya said there were many of his members that were discouraged by the communication barriers and lack of understanding of how the process of applying worked. 

Ken Evans is the president of the Urban Chamber of Commerce, which represents a diverse community of businesses.

“Quite a few of our businesses had to shut down totally. Fortunately, a small subset that are in the food and beverage industry were able to at least partially open up and do some to-go and curbside,” he said.

Businesses in his chamber have seen a drop in revenue of between 20 and 30 percent compared to the same time last year. The only exception is construction.

Evans doesn't believe any of the chamber members will have to close permanently, "however, the concern we have is that as we do the relaunch and the recovery for the state of Nevada, and particularly in our region, are our businesses going to get the procurement opportunities they need to do two things: first of all stay in business, and for those that did get the federal loans and assistance, pay that loan back”

Many members of Evans' chamber are located in central and downtown Las Vegas, where Black Lives Matter protests took place earlier this month. He said none of the members' businesses were damaged during the rallies.

He notes that some of the unrest can be connected to economics, “to that end, because a lot of blacks recognize that, we want to make sure that we support our black businesses so that they have the ability to build businesses that build our community.”

Peter Guzman is the president of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, which has about 1,500 members.

“I’m very proud to say that Latino businesses are doing fairly well,” he said.

He said that many business owners from his community come from countries where there is a lot of civil and government unrest so they instinctively understand how to adapt under changing situations.

“I think it was really elevated during this COVID and any kind of unrest. They’ve rebounded very strongly,” Guzman said.

He said the Latin Chamber is getting the word out to its members to emphasize cleanliness and safety. Guzman said it is important for customers to know that a business they walk into is clean and safe.

Vinuya agreed. He said the Asian Chamber is providing marketing messages to its members so they can reassure customers that they're walking into a good establishment that is following the rules.

Going forward, Guzman would like to see small businesses receive some infusions of capital to get them really going again.

“All these small businesses can use a little infusion of small capital in order to sustain this moment, but if we do that correctly, I think that Vegas can rebound fairly quickly," he said.

Peter Guzman, President, Latin Chamber of Commerce;  Sonny Vinuya, President and CEO, Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce;  Ken Evans, President, Urban Chamber of Commerce 

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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.