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Some Las Vegas restaurants see slump because of coronavirus

The half-empty parking lot at the usually bustling Chinatown Plaza on Spring Mountain Road Thursday afternoon was the first hint that businesses there are hurting, as people concerned about coronavirus and its prevalence in China stay away.

“Bad. Real bad,” said Henda Chow, owner/manager of the Chinatown landmark Harbor Palace, when asked how things were going.

Chow said business is off 60 to 70 percent, and has been since the beginning of February.

“The whole month already,” he said. At mid-afternoon, only three tables were occupied in the sprawling dining room.

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Chow said he thinks the plaza has been hit the hardest because people connect it most directly with China, adding that he’d heard from the owner of a Chinese restaurant outside the plaza that while business is down, it’s not down as much.

The fact that a case of COVID-19 was discovered in Clark County Thursday will only make things worse, he said.

“There will be more panic,” Chow said. “With more cases, more people will be scared.”

At Takopa Japanese Street Food, assistant manager Jimm Alvarez said he’d seen a decline.

“It’s been very slow,” he said. “It’s been very unusual.”

Asked whether he would blame the decline on the virus, Alvarez said he would.

“Most people are still not well-informed,” he said. “They’re trying to avoid places linked to ‘China.’ ”

At 99 Ranch Market rice was available, contrary to reports of local and national shortages. Fifteen-pound bags of Calrose rice were displayed near the door, but other shelves that normally hold rice had been stripped bare.

Shopper Claudette Tadeo was leaving the store with two cases of bottled water and a mammoth bag of rice. Was she stocking up because of the virus?

“No, but kind of,” Tadeo said. “It’s only one (person who has contracted the corona virus) here, but others may get it.”

Elsewhere in the valley, opinions were mixed on whether COVID-19 was affecting restaurants. At Makers and Finders in the Arts District, assistant general manager Diane Acuna said she hadn’t noticed a change, though she had seen the effects elsewhere, such as at a Costco in Henderson.

“It looked like Doomsday,” Acuna said.

CC Elise and Jay Word, who had just had brunch at Makers and Finders, said they’re being cautious.

“Of course I’m nervous,” Elise said. “It’s human nature. But I’m not afraid to step outside and live.”

Even so, she said she canceled an upcoming trip to Germany.

“It doesn’t seem smart to hop on a flight for 16 hours,” Elise said.

Word said he still had a ticket for a trip to Paris, though reservations for flights to Taiwan and Korea had been canceled and refunded by the airlines. A model who relies on jobs in international locations, Word shrugged off the risk.

“I’ve got to make my stuff, too,” he said.

The lunchtime rush at Vesta Coffee Roasters was slower than usual, with plenty of empty seats at noon.

“It’s definitely been a lot slower,” said Elise True, lead barista. And she has noticed another difference.

“People aren’t staying,” True said. “It’s more orders to go.”

The change at nearby Tacotarian has been more dramatic.

“On Monday I started panicking a little bit,” said co-owner Regina Simmons. Tuesday was slow, she said, but while things picked up Wednesday and Thursday, she worried the Thursday announcement of a case of COVID-19 in Clark County would prompt another slump.

“There’s definitely going to be a drop in business,” she said. “Everybody in town is going to feel it. We have to get ahead and prevent this thing.”

Simmons is taking a proactive approach, reinforcing staff sanitary training, adding sanitizer stations at the doors, wiping doors with Lysol and using sanitizing wipes on menus and the customer order numbers placed on tables.

“I think people will be more comfortable here” as a result, she said.

Stephanie Bethel, a spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District, said the risk for the general public still is considered low.

“We’re not having any community spread here in Las Vegas,” she said. “The health district is not making any recommendations for people not to go out. But it is cold and flu season, so you should take precautionary practices like washing your hands and staying home if you’re sick.”

Chow said he was hopeful that the outbreak wouldn’t be as bad here as in some other places such as the damp Pacific Northwest; while Bethel said COVID-19 is new and not a lot is known about it, a local physician told the Review-Journal this week that coronaviruses generally don’t like hot weather.

“We’re in the desert,” Chow said. “It’ll get hot soon. Hopefully that will help.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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