TOMBSTONE — Tourist-dependent Tombstone is not one of Arizona’s ghost towns, but the spread of COVID-19 has practically turned it into one, city officials said Friday.
The city of roughly 1,400 residents that has long prided itself on being “The Town Too Tough to Die,” is buckling under the economic strains of the coronavirus pandemic, said Marshal Bob Randall and Mayor Dusty Escapule.
“It’s terrible around here,” Randall said Friday morning. “Like everybody else, we’re going through some hard times.”
The 71-year-old Escapule, a fourth-generation Tombstone resident, echoed the sentiment: “I’ve never seen it this bad. We’re in serious condition.”
The mayor said every store, eatery and bar in the city is shut down. He said two “small” restaurants are handling take-out orders and a brewery is selling beer to outside companies.
While other cities are suffering through similar scenarios with shuttered businesses, Tombstone’s situation is downright grim because it is set up strictly for tourism, Randall and Escapule said.
“Our only industry; our only industry, is tourism,” Escapule stressed.
The city’s website touts itself as a “refuge for international travelers looking for the REAL America, the true Old West, here in Cochise County.”
Daily re-enactments of gunfights, of Wyatt Earp walking down the street toward the OK Corral and saloons with swinging doors greeting customers, are gone for the moment.
Escapule said he believes Tombstone will likely lose about $250,000 dollars before the dust settles on the coronavirus pandemic.
The mayor said food wasn't coming in from Tucson food banks. Escapule said he ordered about $4,000 worth of provisions from U.S. Foods in order to help keep the facility stocked.
For his part, Randall has been forced to furlough two dispatchers. One deputy resigned recently and others are filling in as they work longer hours, he said. But the city is unable to pay overtime during the pandemic crisis.
“We have no money coming in and no money going out,” the Marshal said. “People are staying away.”
Randall said he asked the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office for help and they immediately stepped up, agreeing to provide the Marshal’s Office with one deputy a week.
In an email to the Herald/Review Friday, Randall spelled out just how dire the situation is in Tombstone.
“Due to the COVID-19 and the Governor’s Executive Order to shelter in place, the Town of Tombstone is experiencing a crisis that has not been felt in years. As the businesses and restaurants close, the tourism has become nonexistent. Because of that, there are no revenues coming in to the town coffers, causing a ripple effect across the board. I have had to partially furlough two of my employees and cut back on all overtime activities, which is what was keeping the coverage of the vacated shift alive.
“I have asked the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office for assistance covering the gap created by the deputy that resigned and was immediately provided the coverage needed. Meanwhile, after I made the announcement to my staff that we had to cut back on the overtime for coverage, several of the Deputies immediately stepped up and volunteered to cover the gap for free in order to maintain the coverage. Although I was not surprised at their offer, I was hesitant to continue putting them through the hardship of extended hours away from their families.
“The response I received from them was, “It’s about taking care of and protecting this town.” The dedication these Deputies have for this town and its citizens is heartwarming to say the least and I am humbled to be part of this great organization. So, if you see one of the deputies working late, please thank them and be assured he is doing it out of selflessness and not for the money.
“I would like to thank Sheriff Mark Dannels and his staff for coming to our rescue through these hard times. I would also like to say thank you to our community for the overwhelming support we have received as we all try our best to get through this ordeal together.”