Jim Clay loves coffee. Specifically, the 10-cent cup of coffee available at Searchlight’s only casino, the Nugget. And when he learned that most of his small town — population between 400 and 1,200, depending who you ask — was up for sale, his thoughts went straight to that ultra-affordable cup of joe. Clay, 73, moved to Searchlight 20 years ago to be close to Lake Mohave and its fishing, and whether the town thrives or languishes in the current economy is immaterial to him. All he cares about is coffee and breakfast with his friends at the Nugget — and the Nugget is up for sale. It’s one of five commercial properties included in the Doing family’s sale of 41 acres. They’re selling because matriarch Verlie Doing, 88, wants to retire, and people like Jim are worried that new owners will “change” his favorite place.
Huddled around the bar inside the Nugget, buddies Wayne Peck, 50, Jerry Gruhlke, 52, and Les Rasmussen, 69, all moved here for work: Peck has a boat-storage business, Grulhke is in construction, and Rasmussen, who’s now retired, came here 22 years ago to work on the steel towers supporting power lines across the desert. Even though they each have to make the trek to Las Vegas at least once a week for supplies, they all absolutely love their small town of choice — and the Nugget, they say, makes that tight-knit, small-town atmosphere possible. “Everyone comes here,” Rasmussen says. “We all watch each other’s backs.” Peck refers to it lovingly as “the hub.”
The more people you talk to in Searchlight, the more you realize just how big “the hub” factors into everyone’s lives. Over at the Searchlight Community Center, where bags of food are being dispensed, Mary Arnold, 75, is all smiles while talking about her great respect for the Doing family, especially Verlie, whom she has known for most of her 25 years here. As for the Nugget, she has a special reason for wanting it to remain and thrive: “I helped paint the ceiling there.”
For some, the Nugget is an impediment to progress. David Beda, 66, who moved here three years ago because USDA-subsidized housing was readily available, claims the Nugget is the reason the town doesn’t have a pharmacy or grocery store. He’s hoping the new owners will rectify that situation, adding, “This could be paradise if there was a Walmart here.”
Lifetime resident Debbie Pinkerton, 55, says the Nugget is indeed a key piece of the town (she worked for Verlie Doing for 15 years). “I’m hoping the new owners will want community input. I’m hoping this will bring in more work.”