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Colorado restaurants reopening once again, yet the future remains anything but clear

Governor's order drops state back to Level Orange
REOPENING AGAIN STILL 2.png
Posted at 4:37 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 19:41:46-04

SEVERANCE, Colo. — At G5 Brew Pub in Severance, they are welcoming back diners after a very long December.

“It was terrible. December destroyed us,” Jeremy Gourd said.

Jeremy and his wife, Tammy Gourd, have owned the brewery since 2016.

“It’s 2021. We’ve got to continue building good business,” Tammy said. “This can’t happen again.”

They are now ringing in the New Year with new hope their small business is going to survive multiple COVID-19 shutdowns.

“I understand the severity of what COVID has done globally,” Jeremy said, “but at the same time, sometimes I feel that things need to take their course. I don’t want to go against what the government is recommending, but the government needs to understand that what they’re recommending is destroying us.”

While big retailers and chains have been able to operate somewhat normally, experts say small businesses have suffered the most from forced closures and capacity restrictions.

“The large businesses have done well and the small businesses are dying by the wayside,” said Darrin Duber-Smith, senior lecturer in the College of Business at Metropolitan State University. “The data now coming out of Texas and Florida where they didn’t lock down is no worse than data coming out of California and New York where they did. It just seems to me that the government has made some pretty bad moves.”

Denver7 took a 360 look at what the move to Level Orange and reopening restaurants means for communities.

Restaurant workers, like Gregg McCauley, a bartender at Giampietro’s in Breckenridge, said the shift to Level Orange allowed him to return to work.

“It’s been really great being able to get back to work,” McCauley said. “I know a lot of people in the service industry here in Colorado have been lacking in that way.”

McCauley says opening up restaurants not only gets thousands back to work, but it also stimulates other spending.

“I can pay some bills that might have been lacking for the last nine months,” McCauley said.

Tiana Wales works in short-term rentals in Breckenridge.

“Having it back open is huge,” Wales said. “It’s one of the first questions tourists ask: ‘Are the restaurants open?’” Wales said. “For guests who are coming up to have an experience, that’s a drastic factor in that.”

The governor made the call to move the state from Level Red—a full closure of indoor dining at restaurant—to Level Orange this week.

"Some of the counties were in Orange, so it's kind of like a regional call where it just doesn't make sense. Very slight differences in levels, and you have people traveling deliberately between counties to go to restaurants in other counties,” Governor Jared Polis said. “So, we try to move as we can as a region. It makes sense for cohesion to be together or else you're just going to have more people traveling between the counties."

At Level Orange, restaurants can open at 25% capacity, and some counties that have applied for the state’s 5 Star Variance Program can now go to 50% capacity, like Hinsdale County near Telluride which has the lowest 7-day incidence rate of COVID-19 cases in the state.

“We just have to take whatever we can get at this point,” said Chmurny Cain, owner of Breckenridge’s The Motherloaded Tavern.

Cain is thankful Summit County qualified for the 5 Star program just before Christmas.

“It was a total game-changer and it happened so fast,” Cain said.

Now, she’s asking guests to limit their dining experience to just one hour.

“People are understanding,” Cain said. “They know what they have to do. They have an hour at that table to turn it so we can feed other people.”

“I never would have thought that allowing us to be at 25% capacity would be [exciting] or we’d be winning,” said Mark Shaker, founder of Stanley Marketplace in Aurora.

Stanley reopened this past Tuesday after what Shaker calls a "punch in the gut" holiday season.

“We’re very public health conscious, but at the same time, we have 56 small businesses in there,” Shaker said “and they’re all scraping and clawing for survival.”

Shaker hasn’t lost a single business thanks to what he calls collective and shared pain by lenders, investors and others committed to keeping these small businesses alive.

“Support your small businesses,” Shaker said. “Find a way to help them get through to the other side.”

He told those businesses last April it would take 18 months to fully emerge from the COVID-19 fog. He now sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

“By Labor Day 2021,” Shaker said. “That’s our goal.”

Duber-Smith said that’s not unrealistic.

“I think the genie’s out of the bottle,” Duber-Smith said, “and I don’t think we’re going back. If you look at the data, the spread is not happening in these retail locations, and it’s certainly not happening in the restaurants.”

He said, unfortunately, small business had to take government missteps on the chin, which benefited chains at the expense of mom and pops like G5.

Gourd said this is about letting people take personal accountability for their own health.

“Just because I own this place doesn’t mean I should be, ‘hey, everybody needs to come in,’” Gourd said. “No, I want it to be, 'you are welcome to come into my establishment if you want to take the risk.'”

Gourd said she sees heated patios and social distancing as possible permanent fixtures.

“What makes people comfortable is to come in and still have their distance,” Gourd said. “Permanent heat on the patio rather than bringing in mobile fire pit tables or tower heaters.”

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.