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Stage Door stays open, not for drinking but for shopping

April 19, 2020 GMT
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John Vizcarra, director of operations, poses in front of the Stage Door Casino near the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The casino is closed but the market is still open. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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John Vizcarra, director of operations, poses in front of the Stage Door Casino near the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The casino is closed but the market is still open. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Wee-hour walk-ins can’t gamble or get a drink these days at the Stage Door, a bar, casino and convenience store tucked in a corner behind Las Vegas Strip resorts.

But operations chief John Vizcarra told the Las Vegas Sun he’s been able to keep the grocery business open during Nevada’s coronavirus shutdown due to loyal patronage by longtime customers including union workers at big construction sites nearby.

“We did a last call for alcohol for the first time ever at our bar,” Vizcarra said. “The market, though, is still open. We have bread and milk and eggs and toilet paper and refreshments. We haven’t been hit by any of the hoarding. Everyone who comes in is very respectful. We’ve seen a more positive side of people, I think.”

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The Stage Door sits across Flamingo Road from Bally’s hotel-casino, near Koval Lane. In years gone by, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to see Frank Sinatra and friends at the bar following one of Sinatra’s nearby performances.

But the Stage Door is more than a legendary resort-corridor watering hole. The market is a secret gem for construction workers, for whom it also offers a paycheck-cashing service.

On a recent weekday afternoon, store shelves were fully stocked with everything from cases of bottled water to canned food items.

“We thought about closing the store but kept it open, as it’s important for people in the area to get groceries and things,” said Randy Markin, one of the owners.

Regular customer Chris “Cowboy” Amack, a longtime iron worker, said store employees even reached out to him last month to check in.

“They wanted to make sure we were doing all right,” Amack said. “They know I have kids. They wanted to make sure I had water and toilet paper. They were ordering whole chickens and took a food order for me. It’s that kind of service that makes the place special.”

Markin’s father, Ron Markin, moved to Las Vegas with his three children in 1958 and worked at a gift shop before going on to own and sell the Bali Hai Hotel to investor, pilot, film director and philanthropist Howard Hughes.

In 1976, Ron Markin opened the Stage Door, named because the old MGM Grand hotel stage faced Flamingo Road.

“We are the last of what Vegas used to be,” Randy Markin said. “We’ve made it through 9/11 and multiple recessions — we will be back strong as ever.”

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After Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak gave the order in mid-March to close nonessential businesses, Vizcarra said construction workers still active at projects on the Strip continued buying grocery essentials.

Vizcarra listed the $4.3 billion Resorts World megaresort due to open in 2021 and Allegiant Stadium, the $2 billion, 65,000-seat facility due to open by September for UNLV football and the NFL’s relocated Las Vegas Raiders.

“A lot of those iron workers and carpenters and tradesmen, they’ve been with us for years,” he said.

Amack told the Sun he can’t wait to once again spend time at his favorite bar.

“The people at Stage Door, when you’re a part of that circle, you’re part of a family,” Amack said. “That’s how Las Vegas has survived so well over the years. One wheel greases the other.”