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Latino-owned businesses hit hard by COVID-19 shutdowns

By ThisIsReno
Mari Chuy’s Mexican Kitchen has had business drop 75 to 80 percent since the pandemic, despite offering take-out orders. The Midtown restaurant is usually busy for Cinco de Mayo and Artown, but this year those won’t be happening. Image: Bob Conrad

By Bianca Wright | En Español

Even though Governor Steve Sisolak unveiled his plan for slowly reopening Nevada earlier this month, many business owners around Reno continue to deal with the aftermath of the statewide shutdown. Among those affected are Latino-owned businesses like Mari Chuy’s Mexican Kitchen and A Toda Madre Tattoos, which both said they have seen significant declines in business.

Like a majority of small businesses across the United States, Latino business owners report facing economic hardship recently. In an online survey conducted by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, 86 percent of Latino small business owners reported dealing with a “significant negative impact” only two weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. 

Many Latino-owned businesses in Reno can relate. Jesus Chuy Gutierrez, the owner of Mari Chuy’s Mexican Kitchen, has seen drastic declines in business. He was grateful that his restaurant could still do take-out orders during the initial shutdown, but still saw only a fraction of his regular business revenue. He said that holidays like Cinco de Mayo and other local events usually gave a boost to his business, but the restaurant may not see business like that again for a while. 

“Right now our business is down probably 75 percent, 80 percent,” Gutierrez said. “Between Cinco de Mayo and Artown, those are big events for us. So, basically, those events are done.”

Gutierrez is no stranger to adversity. He said that he was one of the first restaurants to come to Midtown in 2005, and since then has faced challenges related to the 2008 economic crash and construction on Virginia Street affecting his business. One thing he said was always helpful to his business was keeping up with social media. 

“Fortunately we’ve been very active on social media with the neighborhoods,” Gutierrez said. “[The community] has been very helpful to us in cooperating with this.”

Mari Chuy’s Mexican Kitchen has had business drop 75 to 80 percent since the pandemic, despite offering take-out orders. The Midtown restaurant is usually busy for Cinco de Mayo and Artown, but this year those won’t be happening. Image: Bob Conrad
Mari Chuy’s Mexican Kitchen has had business drop 75 to 80 percent since the pandemic, despite offering take-out orders. The Midtown restaurant is usually busy for Cinco de Mayo and Artown, but this year those won’t be happening. Image: Bob Conrad

Things have been even more challenging for Jose Velazquez, the owner of A Toda Madre Tattoos on South Wells Avenue. Because it is a tattoo parlor, it was considered non-essential and had to close its doors completely two months ago. Since then, Velazquez and his employees have received notably less income and have no idea when they’ll be able to continue working. 

Before he closed its doors, Velazquez said that his business was prospering. His tattoo artists were booked with appointments, and they averaged around 10-12 walk-ins a day. Now, he and his six employees have to find other ways to make ends meet. 

“We’re all independent contractors, so we all kinda had to figure out what we were gonna do,” Velazquez said. “Some of the guys had savings, some didn’t.” 

We’re going to get back to work, [but] I don’t think things will be the same.”

Velazquez now works part-time with DoorDash, a food delivery service. But most of the time, he’s at home with his family. He said that he didn’t understand why hair salons and barbers were able to open. Meanwhile, there has been no word on when his doors can open again. 

Velazquez noted that tattoo artists are subject to blood pathogen tests yearly, so they are familiar with how to properly maintain a safe and sanitized environment. 

“We would love to know when we’ll be able to open,” Velazquez said. “If the government wants to say we’re gonna open in three months, then OK, [at least] we know we have three months.”

Ann Silver, CEO of Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce
Ann Silver, CEO of Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce

During this time of uncertainty for businesses around Reno, non-profit organizations like the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce are working constantly to provide assistance to business owners in Northern Nevada. Even though its doors have been closed to the public, Ann Silver, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said that she and her staff haven’t stopped serving over 1,900 businesses in Northern Nevada. As members, businesses receive multiple benefits, which now include access to daily updates on business-related COVID-19 news and how to conduct business during the pandemic. 

Silver said that it may take a while, but recovery is possible for businesses in Reno. She emphasized the importance of following government directives so that customers can feel safe as patrons again.

“Compliance [to directives from the governor] will provide for a strong rebound,” Silver said. “[Consumers will] be aware that the business is complying with all the strictest standards of health, safety and sanitation, and that will encourage consumer confidence.”

Gutierrez and Velazquez both expressed optimism for the future but also explained that one thing is certain: even when businesses can fully reopen, things will never be the same. 

“I know it’s gonna be hard all this time,” Gutierrez said. “But we’re very optimistic that something is gonna change.”

Velazquez shared similar sentiments. “We’re going to get back to work, [but] I don’t think things will be the same,” he said. “But we’re ready to take the precautions that we need to be a functioning establishment.”

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