Sunday, June 23, 2024

Rajine Jones has a front-row seat to the Las Vegas Grand Prix, one of the most audacious events to roar into a city built on spectacle. But that experience will be different for her. On Saturday night, Formula One racecars will be hurtling down the Las Vegas Strip and buzzing past towering casinos, just outside the convenience store where Ms. Jones sells vape cartridges and energy drinks to tourists. However, race organizers have shrouded the Strip in black tarp and fencing, and covered the glass on pedestrian walkways with white film and floodlights, obscuring the festivities from those without a $1,000 ticket. “They blocked it,” Ms. Jones said, looking out her front doors at a line of tarp-covered fence. “We can’t see nothing.”

Race and county officials have described the barriers and film as safety measures to protect the public and drivers. But to workers and small-business owners, it is the latest indignity of a monthslong construction project that has turned the Strip into a racetrack, causing huge headaches. Race organizers and tourism officials have touted the Las Vegas Grand Prix as a sporting and economic success story years in the making — one that will infuse Las Vegas with celebrities, concerts and $1 billion in economic activity on a normally quiet pre-Thanksgiving weekend. But local businesses and workers say they have been disproportionately forced to pay the price.

Wade Bohn, who runs Jay’s Market, a gas station and convenience store a few blocks off Las Vegas Boulevard, said, “You can’t do this to a city.” He and other business owners say they have lost customers over the past six months as construction and road closures turned the Strip into a gridlocked labyrinth. At Battista’s Hole in the Wall, an old-school Italian restaurant in the middle of the construction, revenue from each dinner shift has fallen by about $6,000 a night. The owner, Randy Markin, said he has stopped paying himself and can no longer afford to give his staff quarterly bonuses. Hourly workers at casinos, hotels and restaurants also say they have been hit hard. Some people’s commute times have tripled. “They don’t pay me for the extra time,” said Carmen Gomez, who works nights sweeping the pedestrian bridges that span Las Vegas Boulevard. She said her 15-minute bus ride to work now takes an hour.

At the cherry-red Jay’s Market, Mr. Bohn struggled on Thursday to contain his emotions as he surveyed the half-empty store. He blamed a temporary bridge on Flamingo Road that had been built to carry traffic over one section of the racecourse. Normally, his gas station is packed with tourists from California filling up their tanks and grabbing sandwiches, but he said his revenue this year is down $2.2 million compared with 2022. He has laid off seven of his 12 employees, and said he does not know whether his store will survive if the Grand Prix becomes an annual event in the heart of the Strip, as local leaders envision. He has sent several emails and called the Clark County commissioners, who approved the race, but has not gotten any response. (Because the Strip and racecourse lie outside Las Vegas city limits, the event is overseen by the county).

“It’s not just about bad traffic for a few months,” says Colleen Angel, a former worker at Mr. Bohn’s store. “It’s the people who work on the Strip. The reason people come here from all over the world, the amenities — it takes a lot of backbreaking work to keep it in place.”

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