Saturday, March 28, 2020

Off-season comes early for local business as county begins shutting it down

New order includes stringent measures

By Mark Reaman

Kyleena Falzone stood in the doorway of what is normally one of the busiest, largest, most popular restaurants on Elk Avenue early Monday afternoon, the Secret Stash. Her daughter Willa danced in front of the sign that said, “Sorry. I can’t let you in…but I can serve you a free drink. Free coffee, tea, hot chocolate.” A woman on keyboards was playing music on the bench beneath the plate glass window of the restaurant. Kyleena chatted to the people who stopped for the free drink. She admitted the times were strange and was bummed she had to lay off employees as a result of the shutdown that has been ordered as a result of the coronavirus.

Gunnison County health officials issued a new order just before noon on Monday, March 16, containing more stringent mandates to help curb the spread of the COVID-19. The county is now prohibiting “events” of ten people or more, including employees, to gather in one place. The previous maximum was 50.

The order makes clear that bars, restaurants, taprooms and taverns are ordered closed except for takeout and delivery food service. As of Monday afternoon, employees of local restaurants were seen stacking chairs and closing their doors.

Walking around town and chatting to the mostly tired business owners, they expressed worry about laying off employees this early in the season and having to navigate their way to try and obtain emergency funds or low interest loans for small businesses so they could make it through and pay their bills until a hopefully good summer season. They all understood the gravity of the situation but were concerned about the practical ramifications.

Stephanie White from Mountain Earth Organic Grocer was posting a sign at the front entrance making it clear that no more than five people at a time were allowed in the grocery. Stephanie explained that Mountain Earth has had some of the busiest business days ever in the last week as people stock up. She compared it to the July 4th weekend volume. But that busyness is being handled by a smaller than normal staff as some regular workers are older than 60 and thus are prohibited from working in public places.

In Mt. Crested Butte, Tracy and Justin Hastings are able to continue operating under the new county health orders. “Our business is unique in that we have a liquor store, convenience store and deli under one roof. Since opening our doors, we have been here to serve the community 364 days a year and will continue to stay open as long as we are allowed,” Tracy said in an email Monday. “As long as Justin or I are healthy, we will be open to serve the community.”

Liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries are allowed to stay open under the county order. The sign on the door at Durango Organics makes it clear no more than ten total people can be in the facility at once. The budtender admitted there was some confusion about what the new county order meant for dispensaries, but he said they were complying with what was posted. He also said he had had a very busy Monday as people stock up for whatever lies ahead.

The order details

The county public health director ordered that “events” at retail establishments are prohibited with exceptions that include: Federal, state, local and special district facilities; public utilities or utility service providers (e.g., electric utility providers, internet service providers, water and sewer service providers); grocery stores (e.g., Clark’s, Safeway, or City Market); hardware stores; medical service providers (e.g., hospitals, doctor’s offices, medical clinics, veterinarians, medical supply companies, dental offices, physical therapists, pharmacies); gas stations; and discount department stores (e.g., Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree).

The order states that, “Retail establishments may continue to operate by continuing online or over-the-phone sales, except such goods ordered through such means must be delivered by mail or by delivery to a customer’s home or vehicle and outside of the retail location. Package liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries may continue to operate so long as they are otherwise in compliance with this Order.

The county is closing all short-term rental establishments including major hotels unless “otherwise authorized in writing by the Public Health Director for emergency or quarantine purposes, or to provide lodging for essential federal, state, county or local personnel.”

Buses are limited to no more than nine total people riding at a time.

The order explicitly tells people not living here to go away. “Visitors to Gunnison County are directed to return home immediately upon the issuance of this Order by the fastest and safest available means, and persons considering visiting Gunnison County should remain home,” it states.

The order also addresses the trades and indicates there is opportunity for them to continue working but they have to get the county okay. “Residential and commercial construction sites may otherwise continue to operate so long as in compliance with this Order if they receive an express, written exemption from the Public Health Director after providing her sufficient information, in her sole discretion, to ascertain compliance with this Order. Residential home and repair services (electrician, plumbing, propane delivery, trash, recycling and sanitation services, residential and commercial cleaning and home care services) may continue so long as they are in compliance with this Order.”

Older adults (age 60 and older), including employees, and individuals with underlying medical conditions that are at increased risk of serious COVID-19, including employees (collectively, “At-Risk Persons”), are not permitted to attend pretty much anything. Social distancing recommendations must be met.  These include limiting contact of people within 6 feet from each other.

So the county is basically winding down. Monday afternoon, pedestrians were slowing down to chat with one another at Third and Elk…while staying six feet away from another. It is a weird April off-season in March.


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