Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Businesses adapt to the new Elk Avenue

Bikes an issue, public property helping most private businesses

By Mark Reaman

We are heading into the heart of the summer season and after two weeks, it appears the reconfigured Elk Avenue will not be going anywhere for a while.

Due to public health order regulations that require social distancing and limited capacity in restaurants, bars and retail establishments, the Crested Butte Town Council this spring approved a plan allowing local businesses to use public property this summer. The idea was to give them more space to serve customers under the restrictions of the coronavirus crisis.

During an afternoon stroll through the reconfigured downtown with restaurant tables in the street and some retail merchandise showcased on the pavers, most business owners say they generally are adapting to the new look of downtown Crested Butte. Some like it more than others.

It will surprise no one that Secret Stash and Bonez restaurant owner Kyleena Falzone loves the new reconfiguration.

“I think it is incredible,” she said while polishing silverware outside on Monday afternoon. “I am seeing a lot of people coming to town who don’t want to go inside to eat. They prefer being outside where they feel safe, so the fact the town is allowing this for everyone is great. It’s working.”

The Stash, located at the corner of Third and Elk, jumped into the experiment with energy on day one as Falzone set up new tables, umbrellas and accouterments hours after the town made the reconfiguration official on June 16. “I feel like it gives people the space they want to feel safe,” she emphasized. “I do wish the evening curfew was 10 p.m. instead of 9 since we can’t really seat someone outside after 8:15. It’s still light then, so people still want to be outside at that time.”

A block away, Eric Roemer of the Wooden Nickel is not so fired up about the new reconfiguration. “I’m sure it is benefitting a few businesses, but overall for me I think it cheapens the look of town,” he said. “It also seems like a free-for-all where no one is doing what they are supposed to be doing when it comes to social distancing. It seems pretty crowded out there at times.”

Roemer said because of the limited space in front of the Nickel he would be allowed only two or three tables at most. Plus, there are some steps leading from the restaurant to the sidewalk so he figured, “Carrying glasses and food out there is an accident waiting to happen. I just chose not to do it under the circumstances we have.”

Jamie Timmons of McGill’s serves breakfast and lunch from his Elk Avenue location. He said the additional space allowed by the town is helping a lot. “With the tables inside spaced for social distancing, our capacity was shrunk significantly,” he explained. “Having the outside seating gives us the option for another 16 to 20 people and that makes a big difference. We are probably around 90 percent capacity with those extra seats. Considering the alternatives, this is a big help for us. From my perspective, I think it puts out a good vibe for town.”

Scott Pfister of retail stores Pooh’s Corner and Pfister’s Handworks says he is still evaluating the new reconfiguration. “I’m all for it if it works,” he said. “It’s still getting worked out and people are still getting used to it. Crested Butte is a quaint National Historic District so I was a little wary but we are rolling with it. I do feel there are some safety issues, especially with the bikes and skateboards that are going the wrong way. And I think it unfortunately divided some Elk Avenue business people.

“As for the customers I talk to, some like it and others are confused,” Pfister continued. “I want it to work for everyone and am willing to keep giving it a go. There has been some business strength in June and hopefully that continues. We are still staying tuned.”

Lisa Cramton of Chopwood Mercantile, located in the 100 block of Elk Avenue, is watching to see how it all works as well. “For the most part it seems people like being outside,” she said. “It doesn’t affect us as much. We’re not putting merchandise outside because of the dust and cottonwoods. But overall it’s great and we love to see people enjoying it.”

Cramton said she and her partner, Travis Underwood, agree the issue of bikes using a crowded Elk Avenue or the sidewalk is somewhat dangerous. But they have noticed more locals parking in the official lots instead of taking up valuable space on the main street, which is a good thing. “It is funny to watch people try to parallel park on the left side of the street,” noted Travis. “That throws a lot of people.” On a side note, once the county mask mandate went into play, they said they sold several hundred buffs for people to wear and now can’t find anymore on the market to sell.

Timmons also brought up the safety aspect of bikes going the wrong way down Elk. “Someone could get popped pretty good going the wrong way. That’s the nature of town but people need to be careful.”

Molly Eldridge of Coldwell Banker Mountain Properties said her Elk Avenue real estate office hasn’t been impacted much. “Parking on Elk is never guaranteed and that’s probably the biggest difference. But looking at it right now there are plenty of places to park,” she said Monday. “We’ve had some walk-in traffic and to me the vibe doesn’t feel that different from a typical summer because there are still cars. It would be really different if vehicles weren’t allowed. We had such a mild spring that it feels like we’re well into summer but it is actually just starting. I just hope it is good for the restaurants and they can handle the volume as it gets busier.”

Timmons said while McGill’s is not doing the numbers it did last year, he is still feeding a good amount of people. “Last year on this date we did 295 plates. Today we did 225. So while not perfect it is working for us. There is only so much we can do with it and we are trying as much as we can,” he said.

Falzone said she too is doing what she can and embracing the new opportunity. She has helped other businesses decorate their outdoor space and recommends other local businesses to customers. “Between the Stash and Bonez we spent about $15,000 on the beautiful new outside tables and setups. You have to spend money to make money,” she said. “I haven’t heard one negative thing from the customers. They love it. My projection is that we will recoup the loss we suffered when we had to close in March and be even for the year compared to 2019 by the end of the summer. I am really appreciative that the town is giving us the opportunity.”

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