Since Colorado Gov. Jared Polis closed restaurants to in-person dining to slow the spread of the coronavirus, business in Cortez and Montezuma County has plunged by more than 70% at some restaurants.
At Blondie’s Trophy Room, a popular bar and restaurant on East Main Street in Cortez, business is down 70%, said manager Desmond Calhoun. He has laid off 10 employees and is relying on to-go orders.
At the usually crowded Once Upon A Sandwich cafe on West Main Street, owner Caroline Hessom has turned away regular customers who stopped in for a daily meeting.
“We’re taking it day by day, hoping for the best,” she said.
She and her husband, Rick, and a small staff are keeping their spirits up preparing to-go orders.
“I’m happy to give them support and have them cook up a meal to take home,” said customer Marcia Hyde.
At local favorite The Farm Bistro, to-go orders are picking up, but it is a small fraction of regular business, said owner Tonya Powell. The toughest part was temporarily laying off staff, she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has created a perfect storm of economic hardship. A statewide ban on in-person restaurant dining and a stay-at-home order leaves Main Street nearly empty.
Many of the restaurants decided to close temporarily.
“The restaurant business is hard enough with the small margins and lots of overhead, then add this, and it’s tough,” said Calhoun.
“It was quite a shock how quickly it all happened. We were not expecting it,” Powell said.
Owners said they have encouraged laid-off staff to apply for unemployment and be ready to return to work after the bans have lifted.
Downtown visitors expressed worry that some businesses won’t recover, reopen or return to precoronavirus levels.
Loyal customers ordered takeout meals to support their favorite eateries, even if they have to take it home or to the office.
The Denise Dennison Farmers Insurance agency recently bought $1,000 worth of gift certificates from 10 locally owned restaurants. She has been giving away $25 gift certificates to locals in need.
“I wanted to help where I can, knowing restaurants are suffering,” she said. “Giving them away is another good way to help the community. I continue to order to-go and encourage others to do it too.”
The food service industry in Montezuma County contributes an estimated 756 jobs at 60 locations, according to 2019 data from Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. Average earnings are $20,500 per year, and total 2019 earnings in the industry were estimated at $16 million.
Several relief programs have been enacted to assist laid-off workers and employers in Colorado. Other programs are planned.
The $2 trillion U.S. Care Act promises to provide access to loans up to $10 million for employers for immediate cash flow to weather the storm. If the business retains their staff, the loans will be partially or completely forgiven.
The $2 trillion federal Cares Act relief package was signed Friday by President Donald Trump.
“The Care Act stimulus package is a strong start,” said John Whitney, regional director for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett, during a economic webinar Thursday for Southwest Colorado businesses. “It will take some time to set up and implement programs and grapple with the magnitude.”
The stimulus bill also provides $250 billion in direct economic support, providing $1,200 per worker and $500 per child. The U.S. Treasury said checks will be mailed or be directly deposited in accounts beginning in a few weeks.
Unemployment benefit payments also have increased during the crisis and will continue for an additional 13 weeks beyond the 26-week standard. Sick leave will increase under emergency labor programs to allow for workers to recover from COVID-19 or to assist an infected family member. Employers will be compensated for providing additional sick leave.
For more information on disaster relief programs for businesses, go to the Region 9 Economic Development webpage or call the COVID-19 small business hotline at 303-860-5881.