Colorado Springs business owners brace for “Level Red” restrictions on Friday

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“Effective immediately, everyone is let go.” Lay offs take place at Colorado Springs restaurants as COVID restrictions deepen./Dylan Currier

COLORADO SPRINGS — A second round of more stringent restrictions will be enforced in El Paso County beginning Friday, Nov. 27, at 5 p.m. It’s a move, the state says, that will curb an increase in cases without issuing a complete shutdown. Currently 27 counties across the state fall within the “severe risk” category.

The move is an unwelcome one for small business owners, still struggling to recover after the first round of shut downs in March.

“Effective immediately, everyone is let go,” said Dylan Currier on Monday.

Currier is a co-owner of Colorado Craft, a locally-owned restaurant on Tejon Street, in downtown Colorado Springs.

Currier sat down with FOX21 Digital NOW a mere hour after the latest announcement was publicized.

“We laid off, I would say, around a third of our staff last Monday when we went to 25 percent, kept on hold as many as we could, and then I let all my bartenders go. We’ll be shutting down Wednesday [for in-person dining]. We’ll do to-gos, and we’ll see how it goes week by week,” he said.

It was a tough call, he said, affecting co-workers who’ve become like family in a closely knit industry.

The state’s decision to move the county to “Level Red” was also lambasted during a regularly scheduled meeting of the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday morning.

BOCC Chair Stan VanderWerf, a veteran and small business owner per his election website, said in the morning meeting, “closing down businesses, I think, will be a mistake.”

Using much stronger language, BOCC Vice Chair Longinos Gonzalez said, “small businesses will suffer and starve.” He suggested Governor Polis could “try to enforce it if he wants to.”

>>TAP HERE TO WATCH THE NOVEMBER 24 BOCC MEETING IN FULL

But in a Tuesday afternoon briefing, Governor Polis, noting statistics that show one in 41 Coloradans are currently contagious with COVID-19, did not sway from the state’s latest mandates. Projections, he said, if we are unable to reverse our current trend, show the potential of shortages in ICU beds across the state, as well as a near doubling of Colorado’s COVID deaths to date, in just the next month.

“I am confident that the steps that are being taken across the state, with the counties that are now in red, will help turn the corner on reducing cases and hospital load, which is now in a very critical phase,” Polis said.

Regardless, the move will create a struggle that some small businesses may not survive.

“At 50% [capacity], I don’t know how any restaurant is still open, honestly,” Currier said. “You know, everybody’s still fighting. I know most restaurants who got the [Paycheck Protection Program] money used it – to obviously pay payroll and rent – but were able to keep their heads above water. Which means they were able to put a little bit of money into the bank.”

Currier shrugged.

“Now, they’re about to live off that money for the next few months and start over from zero,” he said. “Hopefully.”

In the meantime, he said, his staff members – who struggled to make it day-to-day during the last mandated shutdown, are facing hard times again.

“When we were shut down last time I started doing [virtual] happy hours and accepted tips via Venmo and Cash App and we stockpiled that money,” Currier said. “We did almost $6 thousand in tips over time. I tried to split that money equally between bartenders and also have an emergency fund. I pulled out that emergency fund quite a few times to help my bartenders pay rent during the last shutdown.”

Currier said he’ll start those virtual moneymaking ventures up again. And he hopes our community is able to help again, as well.

“Buying to-go is probably the single best thing you can do to support businesses,” he said. “If you used to eat out once or twice a week, you should order to-go two to three times a week,” he caught himself there. “If your jobs haven’t been interrupted and you still have income.”

He mentioned investing in gift cards, as well, and waiting six months or so to cash them in.

Laurel Prud’homme of the Downtown Partnership said there are several ways to help local businesses during the “critically important” holiday shopping season, while following all the current guidelines.

“Order online and do curbside pickup, both for restaurants and retailers. Purchase gift cards, which brings revenue now and offers you or a gift recipient a treat later. Shop online from local stores instead of big box stores,” Prud’homme said.

Currier said Colorado Craft is doing what it can to innovate sales as well. And his idea could make a dent on your holiday gifting.

“We’re doing cocktail kits. So, most of our classic cocktails: old fashioned, gimlets, martinis, moscow mules, we’ll sell them as a whole kit. You’ll get a bottle, you’ll get the proper glassware to put it in, you’ll get the fruit to juice,” he said.

Kits start at $60.

“Remember smaller is safer,” Prud’homme added. “You won’t run in to huge crowds at local shops.”

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