Would it be a bonanza or a bust?
As commerce across Colorado reopened its doors on Friday with about half the state’s population entering its “safer-at-home” phase of the coronavirus crisis, the business reboot produced something in between.
Barbers resumed cutting hair, an ice cream shop in Vail started serving customers again, a bookstore whose launch was interrupted reopened its doors to browsers and buyers and a fly fishing shop along the South Platte River welcomed back anglers eager for an escape.
For some, the impact was immediate and promising. “Slammed,” was how Kim Estares of Shears Barber Shop in Colorado Springs put it about her business.
For others, a slow return confirmed their notion that this could take time.
“It’s better than yesterday, let’s say that,” said Wendy Withers, co-owner of the Books Are Awesome bookstore in Parker.
The Colorado Sun talked to businesses owners across the state to learn how their first day back in operation went:
Shears Barber Shop, Colorado Springs
To go back to work on Friday, Kim Estares had to reason with herself that she would be OK. She’s 64 and takes medication for an autoimmune disorder, potentially putting her at greater risk from the coronavirus.
But keeping her doors closed wasn’t an option.
“I’m taking every possible precaution I can with sanitation and hand washing and surface wiping and wearing a mask,” said Estares, who owns Shears Barber Shop in downtown Colorado Springs. “I can’t retire. I can’t not work.”
Her loyal customers helped her get by during the month-long stay-at-home order that kept her and the two other barbers at her shop from cutting hair. Their generosity covered the rent. But she still took a financial hit from not working.
“Ah, damn,” she says when asked about the financial impact. “Pretty big.”
The good news is that appointments were booked for about two weeks straight when Shears reopened on Friday. The bad news is that required social distancing and cleaning protocols mean she and the two other stylists at Shears can handle only two-thirds of their normal client volume.
Estares will also be losing some income because she won’t be doing straight-razor shaves for the foreseeable future. She doesn’t want her customers taking off their masks.
She started the day nervous — “everything felt off,” she said. But the day went as well as she could have hoped. Customers were grateful and generous. She had enough spare masks to give to the few people who came in without face coverings.
She was exhausted as she headed home after cutting about a dozen clients’ hair on Friday. And she’s glad to have the weekend off.
“I’m glad I jumped in with just one day to settle in,” she said. “I’ll have the weekend to wrap around what the new — hopefully temporary — normal is going to be.”
— Jesse Paul
Haagen-Dazs Dessert Cafe, Vail’s Lionshead Village
Ric Almas has his mask. He’s got the tape on the floor to keep people apart.
Now all he needs are customers at his Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop he’s operated in Vail for 29 years.
“It was a hard decision about being open. I’m just trying to see if I can make it into the plus side instead of the minus side,” Almas said Friday at his slopeside coffee, bakery and ice cream shop in Lionshead Village, where he moved 11 years ago after 18 years in Vail Village.
Almas usually isn’t worried about May. It’s the slow season; the muddy month after the lifts close but before the summer crowds. But this May is important. After being closed for nearly six weeks since Gov. Jared Polis ordered all ski areas closed on March 14, he’s scraping for every dollar he can get.
“We didn’t have the income in March that carries us through late April and May,” he said. “So I’m testing the water. Does it cost me more to be open or closed?”
He’s betting on being open. Earlier this week he was strolling through Lionshead and saw dozens of people ambling in the sunshine. They should have ice cream cones in their hands, he thought. On Friday, he was working alone to handle a few customers, but he had an employee on the schedule Saturday and Sunday, when he hoped to see an uptick of people passing through the village.
“They may not be spending money on clothes and pricey restaurants, but ice cream, that’s a treat everybody wants,” he said. “With the beautiful weather and the governor relaxing some restrictions, I figured it’s time to offer something you can treat yourself to. We all could use an ice cream, right?”
Almas has been serving Haagen-Dazs for 42 years, starting with his brother in Miami, where he still owns a store. He used to have several shops, spread across Florida, Colorado and Arizona.
“I’ve done a lot of scooping,” he said.
Almas is not super optimistic about summer. Last week Vail Resorts chief Rob Katz told employees that additional furloughs for salaried and hourly employees “will last at least through May and likely into June or beyond.”
“So at the very earliest, I’m thinking maybe we’ll see visitors in July,” Almas said. “It’s going to be a real tough summer. My busiest month is July. Then August. Then March. So for the three busiest months of my year, I’m going to be hard pressed.”
— Jason Blevins
Flies & Lies, Deckers
Before Jeremy Hyatt reopened his fly shop in Deckers, he checked in with each of his four shop employees and six fishing guides to see how they felt about it.
“We all discussed it, and everybody felt comfortable,” Hyatt said, who runs the full-service fishing shop with his 68-year-old father, Charlie. “We are definitely being cautious. We’re kinda slightly paranoid about it.”
Flies & Lies opened its doors for business Friday for the first time since March 15, when the family-owned shop was forced to temporarily close due to the coronavirus. The phone rang nonstop, but other than that, it felt like any other day. For now, all employees are wearing face coverings inside the shop, and only three clients are allowed in at a time. On Monday, they shifted to curbside pick-up of purchases of gear like flies, nets, poles and waders.
“There’s been a lot of people fishing this whole time, but I think people have been very eager for us to open,” Hyatt said. “We carry everything you’d possibly need to get out on the water.”
The fly shop, which opened in 1991, offers guided fishing trips and cabin rentals along the beautiful South Platte River, a popular Colorado fishing destination.
“We knew once we were able to open these doors, we could get back to what we do and we would be OK,” said Hyatt, 42, who has been fly fishing since he was a kid in Evergreen.
He said there was never a point when he considered not reopening. “Luckily, we’ve run a good business. We had a cushion to fall back on,” Hyatt said. “But it wasn’t going to last much longer. So, we are happy to be open.”
Hyatt said he’s worried about the health of his employees and their families. He’s also worried about what Mother Nature has in store for his business in the coming months.
“Whether that’s flooding in the river, or wildfires in the summer, those things will hurt our business the most,” Hyatt said. “That’s what I’m worried about. We’ll just have to see.”
— Moe Clark
Books Are Awesome, Parker
At just a few ticks past 9 a.m. Friday, Wendy Withers flicked on the neon “OPEN” sign and unlocked the front doors of Books Are Awesome, a Parker bookstore still in its infancy when the new coronavirus forced it to shut down more than a month ago.
The atrophied hinges moaned.
Withers and her partner, Denean Wisely, launched around the first of the year and still scrambled for a toehold in the southeast metro area market when their venture had to close its doors to a bookstore’s bread and butter — foot traffic and browsers. So now they prepared, masks in place and spray disinfectant in hand, to welcome back a public that’s still learning they exist.
As the morning wore on, a few vehicles turned into the parking lot, but nobody ventured inside. By midafternoon, two shoppers had wandered in, browsed and made purchases. A couple of online orders also filtered in.
They were prepared for this kind of reopening.
“I think people are going to come out when they feel safe,” Withers said, “and I’m not sure they feel safe yet.”
Situated smack between Walmart and Target, the couple half joked about the drive-by exposure they must have gotten in the early days of the shutdown as frantic toilet-paper shoppers converged on the retail behemoths.
While they were closed, they concentrated on building online business for a bookstore that prides itself on a wide variety of selections — including books by local authors and a section of Spanish-language editions — plus puzzles and crafts. They had just gotten rolling with a series of events like book clubs and author signings when everything had to be put on hold.
Now, they’re reaching out to their customers to remind them that they’re still here, and have weathered the storm.
They never considered closing their doors permanently, due largely to what proved to be fortuitous timing of the pandemic’s arrival — so early in the life of their undertaking that the financial cushion they’d built into their business plan hasn’t been depleted.
“It deeply affected us, don’t get me wrong,” Withers said. “It flattened our curve.”
But with just the two of them running the whole operation, they’ve been able to keep themselves in a position to rebound. They certainly didn’t expect business to come storming back.
“I think we’ll see a little growth,” Wisely said of the short-term future, “but as far as families coming in, I don’t think they’ll be knocking down the door yet. How long will it take?
“This could last a while.”
— Kevin Simpson
Cristos Coffee, Erie
Cristos Coffee is in an awkward place, on the Weld County side of Erie.
This let Grace Hardy and her family open to in-store seating a week before the state began its transition to “safer-at-home” rules and two weeks before shops like theirs just a half mile away, in Boulder County, can take chairs down from table tops and allow people to sit while they sip their coffee.
Cristos was busy under the strict stay-at-home orders, enough so that Hardy didn’t have to furlough any of her 12 employees. People filed in to pick up beverages and baked goods and purchased so many pounds of coffee beans that her dad, who roasts coffee in a warehouse elsewhere in town, could hardly keep up with demand.
So when faced with the question of following the guidance of Weld County, Boulder County or the state, the choice was obvious, she said. “We met as a family and talked about which way to go. We’re in Weld County, so we decided to go with Weld County.”
Last week — before Erie town trustees passed an ordinance aligning the Weld County side of town with the state order — the Hardys set out three tables, each with three chairs, to keep the number of patrons in the store below 10, and made signs for tables on the lawn outdoors reminding customers not to move them together to accommodate large groups. Masking tape Xs on the floor signal safe social distances to customers. Hardy said she was “on the phone with the Weld County health department way more than normal” to make sure the store was operating safely. “And they did come down once to check on us.”
“We were so ready,” said Hardy, who owns the shop in the Erie Commons neighborhood with her parents and brother.
The neighbors? Maybe not so much. Cops visited her store, in a commercial center just a few blocks from the edge of original Erie, every day, she said, asking questions about the advice she’d received from the Weld County health department, about her cleaning routines, about how her customers were socially distancing themselves.
She thinks the person who called the police is not a Cristos customer. “If they don’t see for themselves, they’re judgmental.”
Hardy is now focused on finishing renovation of Cristos’ new location, triple the size of the original, just a few doors away. The steady business through the shutdown helped confirm the family’s decision to move to space with room enough for the roaster and for a quiet place where remote workers can sit with their laptops.
“We had so much support from our customers in Erie, “ she said, “we knew the move was a good idea.”
— Dana Coffield
Wag N’ Wash, Highlands Ranch
Dogs of Douglas County arrived with matted hair, shaggy dos and long nails at the Wag N’ Wash in Highlands Ranch, where pets with appointments could wait outside on the sidewalk for an employee to come take their leash.
The groomer and pet food shop, just a few miles south of the Arapahoe County line that now divides open and closed businesses, is booked into mid-June for grooming appointments. Wag N’ Wash will open two hours earlier, at 7 a.m. each day, to keep up with demand and make room for social distancing.
“Everyone is just panicked because their dogs are matted and dirty,” said owner Katherine Davies, who for the past six weeks was open only for curbside pet food sales.
Davies now takes reservations for the do-it-yourself wash tubs so that hordes of customers don’t show up at once. Only three of the six self-washing tubs are in use at one time. Customers are encouraged to towel-dry their pups instead of using the blow-dry station. And for those with grooming appointments and nail trims, owners can wait outside until they receive a text or an employee comes to get their dog.
Employees are wearing masks and customers are asked to do the same. Wag N’ Wash is also disinfecting the floor and tub “between each and every dog,” she said.
During the restricted period, Davies was able to keep five employees to manage curbside delivery. Her groomers and wash attendants had to take time off, but they are back now.
Davies said she would have struggled even more financially if she had not been allowed to sell pet food, but the pandemic still hit her hard. “We are not going to go under, let’s put it that way,” she said.
Groomer Jazmine Williams, who was buzzing her clippers through the curly black hair of a mini goldendoodle named Callie, was bracing for next week, when her schedule includes several more pups who are long overdue for haircuts.
“Next week is going to be crazy,” she said.
— Jennifer Brown
Within about two hours of Greeley’s Goodwill store reopening, close to 100 customers had already stepped inside to sort through the racks and stacks of secondhand goods, district manager Todd Wakefield said.
Some particularly eager shoppers even showed up before the store’s 10 a.m. opening, thinking the retailer would unlock its doors at 9 a.m. in line with its hours before the coronavirus.
They waited in the parking lot.
The lot, nearly full by midmorning, created an illusion of normalcy outside the Greeley store, which was one of a handful of Front Range Goodwill locations that reopened on Friday. Other stores included Castle Rock, Fort Collins, Fort Morgan and Highlands Ranch.
That illusion gave way inside. Shoppers — many, but not all, wearing masks — mostly kept their distance, obeying Goodwill’s instructions to stay 6 feet apart.
The store also closed dressing rooms, created one-way aisles, continuously sanitized high-touch surfaces and cleaned carts after every use, and ensured staff wore masks and gloves. Additionally, it capped the number of shoppers at 43, causing a steady line of customers outside.
The store reopened with employees top of mind, Wakefield said, “so they can pay their bills and get a move on with their lives.”
The majority of the store’s 50 employees were furloughed when it closed on March 24, store manager Cate Tabor said. Seventeen were back at work on Friday, their temperatures taken before their shifts.
Wakefield, who normally focuses on stores closer to the metro area, never considered delaying the Greeley store’s reopening.
“We’re here for our customers,” he said. “We’re here for our donors. We’re here for our employees. And all three of those are dependent on us for recycling their donations, for our employees to be able to earn a paycheck and our customers just love shopping at Goodwill.”
Among those shopping were Savanna Birney, 25, and her husband, Blaine, 27, of Greeley, who were on the hunt for clothes to sell online — their main source of income.
Neither Savanna, who is pregnant, nor Blaine wore a mask or gloves, but they kept hand sanitizer nearby.
Savanna said she was happy to get out of the house after being cooped up, her mind at ease while scouring the racks.
“I feel like the precautions they’re taking are a little more drastic than other places,” she said.
— Erica Breunlin