On a normal Saturday in April, the Colorado River near Laughlin would be full of jet skiers and flanked by sunbathers. The 97-mile drive from Las Vegas would take at least two hours as urban residents turned off U.S. Highway 95 to the trailheads, Lake Mead and Laughlin.
The road was almost empty Saturday morning, and Laughlin was practically closed with casinos standing quiet, personal watercraft rentals closed and no one on the river despite the predicted high of 84 degrees.
The shutdowns are affecting Laughlin’s economy, including its only grocery store. Nevadans living at the border were left crossing state lines to get groceries Saturday morning when Aldape’s Market closed Friday after 33 years.
Landlord Coker Ellsworth of Ellsworth Coker Realty said the store had no plans to reopen, but he was hoping for a new tenant.
Some residents had stocked up, helping the store sell out the rest of its inventory and forcing its shutdown. Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the coronavirus interfered with the the grocery store’s ability to get inventory that was initially delivered from Las Vegas.
But residents without vehicles faced a problem that Michael and Crystal Jackson of Silver Rider, the local branch of the Southern Nevada Transit Coalition, felt they were expected to fix because the walk to the nearest grocery store is now over half an hour.
“Out here public transit is more of a social service,” Michael, 58, said.
Silver Rider now offers a Saturday-only bus route three times a day to take Laughlin residents to nearby Bullhead City, Arizona, where they can shop at Safeway or Walmart. The short bus ride to that much-larger city costs $2 round trip.
Michael said he saw how hard the Las Vegas Valley has been hit by coronavirus and didn’t want to bring those fears to local public transit. The Jacksons are using hospital-grade disinfectant to wipe seats, buses and the bus terminal itself. Every hour bus drivers are expected to disinfect, and Crystal, 51, is beginning to make masks for her drivers.
The couple also blocked off most seats on the bus to observe social distancing regulations.
A bus for 14 now holds four passengers, Michael said.
“People have got to social distance. We have to make social distancing happen,” he said.
The two said they’re glad Laughlin hasn’t seen an outbreak of the virus yet but recognize how much it’s hurting the economy. Crystal said she’s glad to see the windows in Laughlin hotels lit into the shape of a heart at night.
There were only six passengers reserved for Saturday’s three buses, which Michael attributed to Aldape’s only closing the day before, as well as that news of the new route might not have spread yet.
“As needs grow, if we have to add more buses, we will,” he said.
Crystal said the bus line is still maintaining a regular schedule, even if buses are less full, because even if one person takes it, that person might be an essential worker.
Riders shared fears that Laughlin’s vitality would go away with Adalpe’s. Bus driver and Laughlin resident Beverly Osko said that with one doctor’s office, one bank and no grocery store, she doesn’t see how the city of about 7,000 people could appeal to prospective residents.
For Debbie Holmgren, 57, and Todd Henke, 53, the bus route meant they saved $6 off the normal Saturday trip to Bullhead City and didn’t have to shop in bulk at nearby Sam’s Club.
The couple bought medical packs for Holmgren’s back and vacuum bags for their home after their cat had four kittens last week, she said.
The two didn’t think masks and gloves were necessary, and like many shoppers at the Bullhead City Walmart on Saturday morning, they chose to go without any protection.
Henke called the coronavirus response a “big panic over nothing.”
When the bus brought the couple back to Laughlin, they took their freezer bag filled with more than $100 in supplies and walked it up the hill to their home.