Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2020

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Virus turns normally jam-packed Fremont Street into a ghost town

Downtown Casinos Begin Temporary Closures

Christopher DeVargas

The Fremont Street Experience is empty Wednesday, March 18, 2020, after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Downtown Casinos Begin Temporary Closures

The Four Queens Hotel and Casino is temporarily closed after Governor Sisolak orders a mandatory closure of all nonessential businesses in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, Wed. March 18, 2020. Launch slideshow »

At noon Thursday, Chris Sotiropoulos finished closing down the small American Coney Island restaurant he owns with his sister inside The D casino.

With the Fremont Street Experience shut down because of the coronavirus crisis — along with all casinos in Las Vegas — it didn’t make much sense to stay open.

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday ordered all casinos and nonessential businesses to close in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Dine-in restaurants were ordered shuttered, although drive-thru or carry-out service was allowed to continue.

But there’s no foot traffic now on Fremont Street, and curbside pickup doesn’t make much sense for an eatery in a casino.

To get a delivery service up and running would probably take two weeks or longer, Sotiropoulos said.

“It’s pretty sad,” he said. “Being on Fremont Street, we normally have a captive audience. We’re just going to have to go through this process like everyone else. It’s hard on everyone.”

Just a few months ago, the Fremont Street Experience debuted a $32 million video canopy. On New Year’s Eve, thousands of people packed the promenade to ring in 2020, moving from casinos to outdoor stages featuring performers and a midnight countdown.

Today, the downtown attraction that lures some 24 million visitors annually is a ghost town — no zip-lining, no bands, no restaurants serving food or merry-go-round bars or street performers. About the only people around are the construction workers at the Circa Resort job site.

“Downtown had great momentum and still has great momentum,” said Patrick Hughes, president of the public/private partnership that oversees the Fremont Street Experience. “I think downtown will be the first to come back. When consumer confidence is strong again, people are going to want to take advantage of the value proposition that downtown offers.”

“Nobody alive has seen anything like what we’re all going through now,” Hughes said. “As a human race, we have to figure out how to get out of this, but we will. This virus is invisible and that, I think, is one of the most frustrating things about this situation. But it is good to see that people are taking this seriously.”

Hughes said Fremont Street Experience employees have been furloughed, but those receiving benefits will continue to receive them through at least April 30.

“I live and work downtown and this is a tight-knit community,” Hughes said. “Vegas is still here. Once the state gives the signal, we’ll be back.”

At Coney Island, Sotiropoulos gave all the restaurant’s perishable food items to employees earlier this week.

He said he’s applying for an economic disaster relief loan from the Small Business Association, and if he’s approved, that will help.

It’s going to be a lonely four weeks on Fremont Street, but Sotiropoulos, like Hughes, remains optimistic.

“We’re down, but we’re not out,” Sotiropoulos said. “This town, this community, will come back strong. This is temporary, and the comeback will be great.”