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Opinion: Protest, perseverance and partnership as a small business faces COVID-19

Within several weeks of hearing about COVID-19, we were forced to lay off our entire staff and overnight lost 75% of our revenue.

Grimm Brothers Brewhouse Taproom Manager and Brewer Guy McConnell serves growlers at the Loveland brewery on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. The taproom and several other Loveland businesses remained open for indoor service despite Larimer County's Level Red restrictions. (Valerie Mosley/Special to the Colorado Sun)

As a Colorado native, born and raised in the high country, I have seen a lot of changes throughout the years. Colorado has always been a unique and beautiful place to live, even with its ever-increasing population and large amount of tourism. 

From growing up in a small mountain town where I started my first business designing and building websites, to attending and graduating from Colorado State University in a small city, I can understand why people are drawn here. 

I feel very fortunate, if I had to endure this year of a pandemic somewhere, that it was in Colorado. However, the year has not been without its challenges.

Morgen Harrington (Photo by Valerie Mosley, Special to The Colorado Sun)

As one of the owners of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland, we faced a particularly difficult set of challenges. Within several weeks of hearing about COVID-19, we were forced to lay off our entire staff and overnight lost 75% of our revenue. This meant shutting down our taproom and moving to take out and delivery only. 

It was heart wrenching to sit down with our staff, some of whom had been with us for almost as long as the brewery has been open, and tell them we couldn’t keep them on until we could open up again. 

We limped along as a business during the summer months, thanks largely to the generosity of our regulars, friends and family, as well as help from federal and state loan programs, but it was difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel for a while. 

Then things changed and we could operate at a limited level, which was better than nothing! During this time we were constantly having to change our seating arrangements, purchase new furniture and other items for patio seating, and eventually install tents and heating units for outdoor seating. 

This is part of a weeklong series marking a year since COVID-19 was first detected in Colorado. The state’s first confirmed cases were announced March 5, 2020.

>> READ THE REST OF THE SERIES

This constant change in requirements for operation was frustrating and tiring. Even with these changes, we were still able to figure out creative ways to engage our patrons for our 10-year anniversary celebration and Loveland’s annual Oktoberfest partnered with our local Kiwanis chapter. These events, of course, were nothing like in years past, but they were still fun!

Unfortunately, as predicted, COVID had a resurgence in November, and once again small businesses were told to close their doors two days before Thanksgiving, while big-box companies were allowed to operate with fewer restrictions. 

For myself and the other owners of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, as well as other business owners in Loveland, this was not an option. 

Suzanne and Hunter Fitts pay for their beers at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. The brewery and dozens of other Loveland businesses remained open for indoor service despite Larimer County’s Level Red restrictions. (Valerie Mosley/Special to the Colorado Sun)

As small businesses, we barely survived the first shutdown and we couldn’t understand why we were taking the brunt of the COVID burden once again. 

We noticed that small businesses were not being given a seat at the table where decisions were being made for us, but not by any of us. Something had to be done.

Our protest was responded to quickly and effectively. At no point were we trying to “stick it to the man!” We were simply asking to be heard and we were not going to shut our doors until that happened. 

During this time, all businesses involved still operated with all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations of mask wearing, 6-foot distancing, encouraging outdoor dining, contract tracing, and even some businesses (such as Grimm Brothers) going above and beyond. 

I cannot stress this enough: Our local officials, health department, chambers, and other leaders heard our voices and jumped at our aid! (A huge shout out to everyone who has had to tolerate me throughout all of this! I know I was a very squeaky T-Rex and I appreciate your patience with me, your hard work and all of your continuing dedication to small businesses!) 

We had a bipartisan letter from our representatives and senators to the local health department in support of our efforts, and within several days we had a meeting with a member of the department. 

Over the next few months we were able to work together as a community to start the group Small Business for a Healthy Loveland, implement a Level Up Program for certifying businesses to operate with fewer restrictions, get over $750,000 in emergency funding for small businesses in the city of Loveland, and foster a new, more cooperative relationship between the county health department and small businesses.

COVID isn’t over yet, and we are still working hard to keep the overall health of our community strong, but it takes partnership and cooperation to survive during these difficult times.

Prost!


Morgen Harrington is co-owner and chief financial officer of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland.


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