‘We Are Community’: Truckee-Tahoe photographer launches video project to showcase small business struggles
Special to the Sierra Sun
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Visit http://www.theiruntoldstory.com to view ‘We are Community’ videos and to support the project.
Back in March when most businesses closed its doors to help combat the spread of COVID-19, photographer/videographer Court Leve received a media request to go shoot the empty streets of Truckee/Tahoe.
He captured images of fresh snow blanketing Squaw Valley on a bluebird day without a single track, dark storefronts and streets void of vehicles.
“I think we were in a daze for a few days wondering what’s going on. Everywhere you go, you see what’s changed and anticipate what might happen,” Leve said of the shutdown. And as the weeks of the shelter-in-place order dragged on, Leve saw it only getting worse and it possibly being the beginning of the demise of Tahoe’s small businesses.
People are going to run out of their savings, government help is going to dry up, and unfortunately some businesses will be forced to close, Leve said. Words like “pivoting” and “adapting” are often thrown around as small businesses get creative on finding ways to survive, like Restaurant Trokay in downtown Truckee going from a fine dining restaurant to offering take-out service.
Leve learned that Heather River, owner of Bespoke and Atelier in downtown Truckee was painting rainbows all over town simply to make people smile. He filmed her in action and that resulted in a lightbulb moment, prompting Leve to ask himself how he could use his skills to create purpose.
“There are some historic things happening right now, so I thought of what I could do to help small businesses and make some sense of what’s going on,” he says.
He came up with the idea of starting a grassroots effort of building and distributing short videos that include a mix of local business owners and residents telling their stories of how the pandemic is affecting them.
He has released more than a dozen videos through social media and his website, theiruntoldstory.com, in hopes of giving struggling and local businesses a financial (and morale) boost. So far, it’s working.
“The community wants to be connected now more than ever,” Leve says. Plus, these videos remind people near and far of what the state of things in Tahoe are right now; “it’s going to be such a stamp in our history.”
This project, called “We Are Community,” has taken on a life of its own and Leve is still taking requests from Truckee businesses and people willing to go on camera to share their struggles.
One of the most touching stories he’s covered so far is Moody’s Bistro Bar & Beats.
“I’ve been going to Moody’s since they’ve opened and for 18 years I worked with JJ (Morgan, the owner) on shooting music. I contacted him about this project, but he was so down and wasn’t in the mood to talk about what he’s been going through. But then we shot a video and several thousand people viewed it and called and contacted him from all over the United States to buy gift cards.
“To hear he laid off 45 of 48 of his employees, it hits you hard, it’s emotional. I’ve known JJ for a long time and not seeing him cheery … it was really sobering.”
Leve has heard the videos have resulted in a surge of support, and so he plans on keeping it going. He is doing all this work pro bono even though his own business is suffering.
“Ninety-nine percent of my business is working with people and filming large events, which I say is in stage five of getting back up and going again,” he said. “No one can rush into holding a concert or having a wedding, no one can plan anything. A year from now, are people even going to have the money to afford to have the wedding or event that they wanted?”
Leve is scraping by with some sales from his fine artwork but says he’s in the same boat of financial struggle as everyone else. However, he believes that using his talent to support his peers is the best use of his time right now.
“I want to provide these companies with a little bit of help and get them staying on the radar with the public,” he says.
However, Leve emphasizes that this project is no way a public relations piece to come visit Truckee.
“This is a project for locals by locals,” he said, “so that hopefully people won’t forget about these places.”
Leve said he is also extremely careful when shooting and is upfront about his safety protocol.
“I keep a Windex-sized bottle of spray hand sanitizer with me at all times and spray down everything constantly, and I always wear a mask. When I go into a space, I make it a point to keep my hands in my pocket as much as possible to minimize exposure,” he says. “It is a legit concern of mine; I religiously wipe down the mics every time they’re used.”
He says that it’s nice that the “We Are Community” project has been well received and he has enough material to fill the next few months in. He is concerned that the next six to 18 months are going to be hard, though, and he’s afraid that people’s money and energy is going to run out.
Leve said that the project will keep going for as long as it needs to and he’s going to be adding videos that feature more diverse businesses. People can view all the videos or support the “We Are Community” project by visiting theiruntoldstory.com.
Kayla Anderson is a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication based in South Lake Tahoe.
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With the economy in California opened back up, businesses throughout the region are finding it difficult to attract employees.