Under normal circumstances, employees for A&G Studio would be doing business with some of the most recognized gaming and advertising companies in Las Vegas.
The small creative firm—which does video shoots, radio voiceovers, social media content and animation—has had to change the way it does business to stay relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The big productions, those $40,000 or $60,000 video shoots, have gone away,” said Gustavo Simon-Lopez, owner of A&G. “People are advertising less. Companies have had to lay people off. I’ve had big clients that have laid off 50% of their staff.”
Some of A&G’s largest clients—Boyd Gaming and Penn National Gaming, which owns M Resort and the Tropicana—have been hit hard by the pandemic, like many Southern Nevada businesses have, large and small.
In mid-March, Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered all casinos in the state to close to help slow the spread of COVID-19, a mandate that lasted until early June. Some properties, like the Tropicana, remain closed with no scheduled reopening.
Normally a region that attracts more than 40 million visitors annually, Southern Nevada has been in the economic doldrums for months, and the situation isn’t likely to improve soon. That has impacted small business that provide services for conventions, weddings and more.
Alex Barnett, co-owner of a Las Vegas high-end catering business called Cut and Taste, said he’s also had to adjust his business model to survive. A majority of its business is corporate catering.
“We would do anywhere from 100 people to 20,000 people, but nobody’s traveling here now, so we’ve completely changed what we do,” Barnett said.
Cut and Taste now rents out its building on East Pama Lane for smaller get-togethers and parties, usually anywhere from 15 to 40 people, Barnett said. Cut and Taste is also selling pre-made meals that customers simply have to heat up.
“Some companies come in and use our kitchen, and that helps to offset our mortgage,” Barnett said. “We’ve figured out a system right now that’s going to get us by, but we also see that business is starting to pick up a little,” Barnett said.
Rex Miller, CEO of longtime Las Vegas events and weddings firm Destinations by Design, said he doesn’t expect the company’s pre-pandemic business model to be viable without a proven vaccine for COVID-19 in play.
“We serve Fortune 500 businesses on down. They’re not going to come to Las Vegas and bring a large amount of people until they feel satisfied that they’re not going to be exposed to liability issues,” Miller said. “At the same time, our feeling is that people are starving for human contact. They’ve had enough of Zoom calls. When we do get [a vaccine], it’s going to be a huge party.”
As with so many other small businesses in Las Vegas, the trick is to outlast the pandemic, either by using existing resources or switching things up. For Destinations by Design, survival has meant cutting back on personnel.
Miller said he knows that many small businesses around town have had to pivot in order to stay afloat, though he said it’s not that easy for a company that specializes in putting on large events.
“There’s some things you can do, but you’re limited,” Miller said. “I think the Strip hotels are in the same boat. They’re not internet-based companies; they have hard assets. Especially in the event arena, you can’t duplicate the experience of a live event.”
A Las Vegas resident since 2005, Simon-Lopez said he and his family have grown to love the area. He said he understands the pain and loss some small-businesses owners have felt this year.
“I know a guy who had to close a dance studio,” he said. “Another friend had a small bar. They didn’t make it. Some of these businesses had only two or three months of capital. It’s sad to see, because it’s a great town, but maybe it’s a chance to reinvent what Las Vegas looks like.”