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Strict COVID guidelines may lead to businesses shuttering

Local business owners don't know how they will weather the second round of strict COVID guidelines.

Weary Longmonters say new COVID-19 related restrictions are forcing them to once again adapt to a virus that will stretch government resources and could claim more lives and businesses.

Julie Martin and her husband have owned Lumenarea, a lighting retail store in Longmont for the last 20 years. Because of the nature of their business it is considered an essential business. When the lockdown occurred in March, they closed their doors for eight weeks resulting in layoffs for their three additional staff members.

Over the last few months business has picked up, Martin said. “I think people got tired of looking at their lights because they were at home with them so they wanted to upgrade,” Martin said.

While business has picked up the store has had reduced sales for the year, Martin said that another shutdown could be a problem. 

“I think we have been busier this week because people know it is going to be shut down. Our plan, at this point, is to remain open, I just don’t know how it is going to affect how long we can stay open and if we can keep our employees,” Martin said.

Boulder County is one of 15 counties that will move to the new red status on the state’s COVID-19 dial dashboard on Friday at 5p.m., in a bid to cut the rise of COVID-19 numbers. The red status forces gyms, retailers, manufacturers, offices, event venues and places of worship to cut their capacities.

Restaurants are closed to indoor dining and outdoor dining is limited to groups from the same household. Level Red status also calls for no personal gatherings of any size.

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday - in announcing the shift to the state’s new Level Red status - urged people to stay home as much as possible in the next few weeks, to avoid interacting with others from outside their households, to wear masks when they go out and to frequently wash their hands to stop potential spread of the virus.

Polis said the new rules will help save lives and businesses. If the state can’t control the virus now, officials may be forced to put Colorado on the new purple status that calls for another shutdown.

Boulder County Public Health spokeswoman Chana Goussetis said in an email that enforcement of the new rules remains the responsibility of local public health, municipalities and law enforcement.

“We cannot, and are not interested in monitoring the personal behavior of individuals,” Goussetis said. “It is up to each person to follow the legal requirements for the good of our community.”

She said the new safety requirements will help reduce the pressure off bone-tired frontline workers in Boulder County.

“Every day, more people with COVID-19 are hospitalized and, sadly, many die,” Goussetis said. “Our health care workers are exhausted, working day and night for months.”

Longmont Deputy Chief of Police Services Jeff Satur said if people see a possible violation of Level Red status, they should call Boulder County Public Health for investigation and only call officers for a violation in progress.

“As an agency, we have to respond to the high priority calls for service first,” Satur said in an email. “When taking action concerning public health orders, our staff will first attempt to change the behavior through education and voluntary compliance. If these remedies fail, we can cite.”

“There are consequences for noncompliance,” he said, “which can include civil and criminal penalties.”

The Longmont Library is closed but patrons can still check out items for curbside pickup. The Civic Center currently remains open with the same services, said city spokesman Rigo Leal in an email.

Other service level decisions will be made piecemeal throughout the rest of the week, Leal said. Friday morning, the city announced that the Longmont Museum and Cultural Center will be closed to in-person visits until further notice beginning at 3 p.m. The museum will offer its remaining Thursday night programs for the season virtually.

Lumenarea is the Martins’ livelihood, without it they don’t have a source of income. PPP and online orders helped the store survive before but even with sales to builders, Martin is unsure if they will be able to keep the employees needed to sustain the business.

“I fear for my business which is my livelihood. Thank God it is not a restaurant because those guys really have it bad. If it shuts down again, it’s going to be a hardship,” Martin said.

 

Ivy Rose-1Ivy Rose clothing shop in Downtown Longmont (Photo by Matt Maenpaa)

 

When the shutdown hit in March, Rosemary Bieker, owner of Ivy Rose, a clothing retail shop at 520 Main Street, said “business wasn’t even sustainable.” However, it did give her an opportunity to regroup and be creative with how to keep her business going.

“It was a challenging position to regroup and take on a different strategy to do the business,” Bieker said.

Her strategy soon became email and social media marketing until people were allowed to visit the shop. Since, Bieker has been committed to keeping customers and staff safe by encouraging appointments and asking patrons to sanitize their hands and wear gloves. Merchandise that has been tried on is quarantined for five days before allowed back onto the sales floor.

Although business has slowly crept back up to a sustainable level, Bieker said that overall business is down 50% for the year.

She feels that there is a mixed message that the public is to stay home yet retailers can have people come in to shop. She is concerned about how the public will view that message from the state.

“The good news (about the change to Level Red) is that we have our sea legs for what we have to do differently and we will step up that game,” Bieker said.

Her efforts during the change to Level Red will go toward getting people to shop virtually, by private appointment and safely in the store.

She doesn’t know yet if the new protocols will be sustainable for her business. “It depends on how long it would be,” Bieker said. “We will keep reinventing ourselves.”

Downtown businesses have been diligent in cleaning, distancing and additing whatever is needed to keep customers safe, said Kimberlee McKee, executive director of the Longmont Downtown Development Authority, LDDA.

Still, the latest restrictions are coming at the worst possible time since most small downtown businesses make most of their annual profits during the holiday season, Kimberlee McKee said in an email.

“Our restaurants and bars will be greatly impacted,” she said. “Carry out and delivery will be the focus for these businesses. Many of these businesses have set up their own delivery systems and the LDDA is working to supply curbside parking spaces.”

Many customers and business owners are exhibiting COVID fatigue in dealing with constraints brought on by the virus, she said. “But we are encouraging everyone to follow all health guidelines to ease restrictions as soon as possible,” McKee said.

LDDA is working with the Advance Longmont partners to share a campaign called 3x #strongmont “Staying Local means Supporting Local. Staying Here for the Holidays? Make 3x the impact every week however you can.”

The campaign calls for residents to:

  • “Buy local from 3 local businesses.”

  • “Order Takeout or Delivery from 3 local businesses.”

  • “Share, tag 3 friends & encourage them to do the same.”

Westley Isbutt, owner of the West Side Tavern, said he is using every tool available to keep the business open and viable. But the newer restrictions will make that almost impossible, Isbutt said.

“It’s really hard to get motivated to try to figure out the best way to keep everyone employed and just keep going,” Isbutt said.

He wishes his business would get help through local government, perhaps by waiving licensing fees. “I just wish there was some kind of counterbalance, some kind of help...or something. It’s just restrictions,” Isbutt said.

He has to reduce tables outside of the business and he can’t serve alcohol past 8 p.m. “It puts a string around our necks,” he said.

Scott Cook, CEO of the Longmont Chamber of Commerce, said the new rules come without federal stimulus funding, which allowed some businesses to stay afloat during the first months of the pandemic.

“Before businesses could close for a while and had the money to have their employees paid, funding for utilities and other expenses like rent,” Cook said. “That’s not the case this time around.”

The chamber is hunting for funding to at least allow businesses to pay utilities and employees, while they may close during the latest round of restrictions, he said. “We’ve already had a number of uncomfortable conversations with some businesses that will have to close for the winter or at least for the next few weeks because they cannot make it with these kinds of restrictions,” Cook said.

The chamber is also updating its list of restaurants offering takeout during the pandemic, Cook said. There will be 156 restaurants on the list, which will include a telephone number, website, and whether they provide takeout or delivery.

“We really encourage the community to rally behind our restaurants, to go ahead and pick up food on their way back from work,” Cook said.

Berenice Garcia-Tellez, board secretary of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County, said the group is sharing information about the new changes to restrictions as well as the severity of COVID-19.

The Latino Chamber hosted a seminar Thursday to provide technical assistance to restaurants so they could have more visibility on the web to boost online sales.

Alejandro Rodriguez said moving to the Level Red will be “devastating” for his business, Summit Tacos.

“We will continue to offer curbside, takeout and delivery but we worry that this second lockdown will be the last blow to many small businesses,” Rodriguez said.

 

Cavegirl CoffeehouseCavegirl Coffeehouse (Photo by David Jarvis/ Longmont Observer)

 

Lori Abramson, owner of Cavegirl Coffeehouse, said she has already seen a drop in sales this week. To compensate, she is sending out social media blasts to remind people Cavegirl is still open and with no plans to shorten hours.

“We just need to remind people to support small business as best they can,” Abramson said.

Editor's note: Silvia Romero Solis and Macie May contributed to this article. 
 



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