Colorado Stay Home Order’s End Gives Businesses Chance To Join Governments In Weighing Health Vs. Dollars

April 27, 2020
Small Businesses In Colorado Springs Think About Reopening After CoronavirusSmall Businesses In Colorado Springs Think About Reopening After CoronavirusHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Genaro Vasquez is getting his Downtown Barbers shop in Colorado Springs picked up and ready on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, for when the state’s mandatory closure order ends for non-essential businesses.

Here it is, the reopening of the Colorado economy. Sort of.

While Gov. Jared Polis allowed Colorado's stay-at-home to expire Sunday, that didn't portend the roaring back of commerce — in fact, the executive order outlining rules that would govern the next phase of the state's handling of the coronavirus pandemic didn't arrive until late Sunday night.

And even before that, businesses in Colorado were using the information at hand — convoluted and confusing as it was — to decide whether or not they'd try to operate normally this week.

In the Colorado Springs neighborhood of Old Colorado City, the owner of Mineral Adit Rockshop said he wasn’t at all ready to throw open his doors at the first possible opportunity. Tom Johnston runs the shop with his wife. They are both in their 70s and worry about contracting the virus.

They plan to wait an extra few weeks to see how the virus spreads as businesses reopen. Then, they’ll try opening by appointment only.

Small Businesses In Colorado Springs Think About Reopening After CoronavirusHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Tom and May Johnston embrace in their Mineral Adit Rock Shop in Colorado Springs, on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. They’re not sure when they’ll reopen once the coronavirus lockdown ends for non-essential businesses.

“I don’t want to die,” Johnston said. “And so, when someone calls and wants a mineral I’m going to ask that they wear a mask and gloves and we’re going to just let in one customer at a time and hope that they’ll buy.”

Over in the city’s downtown, 88-year-old barber Genaro Vasquez will take nearly the opposite approach. He plans to reopen the Downtown Barbershop the first second he can. He’s been going in to clean the place the last couple days to get it ready.

“No, I don’t worry about my health, as far as the virus. No, I’ve never worried about that,” Vasquez said. “Let’s face it, at my age, I can go anytime… I’m worried about getting over there, making some money and paying my bills.”

For Angler’s Covey, a long-running fly shop in town, the management is looking to the expected drop in tourism for guided fly fishing trips. 

“Our guiding is heavily tourism-based,” said general manager Rachel Leinweber. “So, it’s less the Colorado stay-at-home order that’s hurting us and more just that no one’s traveling to come fish in Colorado.”

Small Businesses In Colorado Springs Think About Reopening After CoronavirusHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Rachel Leinweber is the general manager at Angler's Covey in Colorado Springs. She fills a pickup order from a customer on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

Angler’s Covey is a family-run business and Leinweber was forced to lay off all employees with the exception of the family members. They do plan to reopen the retail store on Friday, May 1, bringing back a couple of full-time staff. Though, they will limit the number of customers coming in the door and ask everyone to wash their hands in the store’s bathroom before visiting the showroom.

In places that rely on tourism traffic, opening doesn't necessarily help on its own.

Some stores that have remained open during the pandemic still don’t know exactly how they'll operate once the state’s stay-at-home order expires. In Grand Junction, Megan Alfaro owns Colorado Baby, which sells alternative baby products, like glass baby bottles and cloth diapers. She recently had to furlough her only full-time employee and is currently open only two hours a day.

Alfaro imagines that after the order is lifted, she’ll gradually add back hours, but that will be dependent on the return of business. 

“It’s going to take some time,” she said. “This doesn’t just bounce back, by any means.” 

That's especially true with downtown looking like a ghost town right now, she said. Alfaro’s sales are down about 37 percent since mid-March. But she knows she’s one of the lucky ones. She worries for fellow shopkeepers along Main Street who’ve had to close down altogether. They’re all heading into summer, which is usually a busy time of year. 

“We’re very dependent on tourism,” she said. “That’s not coming back any time soon.” 

That is perhaps even more true in nearby Palisade, known for its peaches and vineyards. Set on a prominent corner in the center of town, the Blue Pig Gallery is one of Palisade’s best-known shops but has no plans to reopen any time soon. 

As other businesses across the state start to reopen this week, The Blue Pig “will be filled with hope and optimism,” owner Darin Carei said.

Without the foot traffic the Blue Pig thrives on, Carei explained, it wouldn’t make any financial sense to open.

“What we have in Palisade is a unique experience that everything else has to be open for everything else to be open,” he said. “And right now, we don’t see anything opening.” 

That’s even though stores could reopen for curbside pickups starting Monday. Gallery director Kay Crane explained their business is especially tied to restaurants and wine tasting.

“Until those aspects are back in place, there’s really not much point in our reopening,” she said. 

In the meantime, the Blue Pig is trying to stay engaged with the community (and afloat financially) with an online auction. Crane sees it as a tide me over until Palisade reawakens.

“That might take a little while, but I think we will be back,” she said. “I’m counting on it, and I believe it.”

Extended stay-home orders in the metro area mean businesses there don't have the same choices.

Mayor Michael Hancock extended the city's stay-home order through May 8, and city officials are working to build the staffing capacity to administer 1,000 coronavirus tests per day. Before that, business owners told Denverite they were also torn about whether to open and how they'd approach eventually relaxed restrictions.

Eva Araujo, who owns a Mexican restaurant in Denver, said it's tempting to reopen, even under social distancing guidelines. But the possibility of catching the novel coronavirus, or her staff catching it, concerns her.

“It’s kind of frightening to say no, and it’s frightening to say yes,” she said. “We’re not sure all of this has actually gotten better.”

Jefferson and Boulder Counties will also extend their ‘stay at home’ orders until May 8. Adams, Arapahoe and Broomfield will too, although they plan to allow non-essential businesses to open for curbside pick-up starting Monday.

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