Feeling the love while learning one day at a time
By Mark Reaman
As the local coronavirus restrictions begin to ease, business owners are excited to see people in their establishments and get back to work, even if it is on a limited basis.
“It is so good to be back. It’s what we do and people have been so appreciative to feel a sense of normalcy,” said Marchitelli’s Gourmet Noodle owner Mike Marchitelli, who opened for dine-in customers on Saturday. “Everyone who came in this weekend was just glad to sit down and relax and eat at a restaurant. Restaurants are a place to relax and have a conversation. It was a relief to people to be able to do that again.”
Gunnison County was issued a variance from the state to start allowing dine-in service for restaurants at 25 percent capacity on Saturday. The rest of the state is expected to follow suit this week at up to 50 percent capacity, and Gunnison County is expected to do so as well. The hope is that the capacity limits will be increased even more throughout the summer.
Local restaurants are abiding by social distancing requirements, so tables must be spaced six feet apart. Servers are wearing masks and groups cannot be larger than eight people. The town of Crested Butte is also working to allow businesses to use part of the town right-of-way to expand their business, so outside restaurant seating and retail displays are an option for many.
Jen Greene of Paradox Footwear loves being able to use the town’s outdoor space. “This last weekend was pretty busy and we were able to have a lot of inventory outside, which was great,” she said. “I’ll be setting up regularly on the grass area by the street when it starts to get busier and I think it will be busy this summer. I expect to see a lot of second homeowners who will come back for summer and a lot of people probably camping. Because of that, I actually cut back on ordering fashion inventory for the summer and have focused on more adventure footwear. With a lot of the major events cancelled for the summer, recreation is where it is at.
“I appreciate the town getting creative and looking for ways to use the outdoor space,” Greene continued. “I think that will help businesses who use it.”
Green said customers have been comfortable going in the store to shop and most wear masks when going inside. She said as the weather warms up, the door is open to better circulate fresh air and she doesn’t require customers to sign their credit card slips. “We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable,” she said. “I expect it to be a decent but different sort of summer.”
While the last two months have not been an easy time, Green has seen a silver lining. “This situation has put it out there how important it is where you spend your dollars. There is no way I can compete against online retailers like Zappos,” she explained. “But people really seem to understand the importance of local businesses and that part has been great.”
Talk of the Town bar owner Mary Boddington has felt the same sort of local support. She was able to open the Talk for takeout orders starting last Saturday. “It feels like the community is really trying to help us out,” she said. “The town is looking for ways to help and I’m grateful to them. The locals were excited to see us open even on a limited basis. Being able to open the doors Saturday really lifted my spirits. It was a little less heavy. It was awesome to see locals come back to support us.”
While restaurants could be open for takeout of both food and drink for several weeks, bars were prohibited from doing that. But Boddington got the word Saturday that takeout was okay and customers could use seating located in front of the Talk along Elk Avenue. And they did.
“People said they were stoked to see the doors open this weekend,” Boddington said. “It’s been a solid two months of us being closed. So when they could, people showed up and they’re great. They are over-tipping the bartenders and buying t-shirts. They are really trying to support us.” She said that three days of support has allowed her to make up for much of the rent.
Boddington said she plans to use the paver area being offered by the town and hopes her business eventually can expand to allow patrons to imbibe inside the bar. “Just this little bit of opening a few days has been huge. Even operating at a limited capacity gets us started on the right track,” she said. “People have been so supportive. There has been a lot of love.”
Sarah Hartigan at the Last Steep has felt the local love as well. “We were able to open Saturday evening and we are grateful for the whole community during this time. The locals have been doing takeout and now they are coming in because they can sit down inside or on the deck. They also bought gift certificates and it all has helped us make it through a tough time as we approach 20 years in business.”
Hartigan said when the word was sent out that they could open Saturday, it was somewhat chaotic to line up staff and prepare the restaurant for customers. But it all came together and they were able to open that night.
“Under the current restrictions we can seat 16 people inside and 16 outside,” Hartigan explained. “It wasn’t perfect but customers were very supportive and very thankful that we were able to actually be open. They said it felt like a sense of normalcy for them to be able to eat out at a restaurant. Of course there is a big learning curve as we adjust to the restrictions but everyone has been very understanding.”
Hartigan said everyone at the Steep was grateful to the town for entertaining ideas about using public space to make it easier for businesses. While not sure if they will place seats on the pavers in front of their building, they may use the space for selling hard goods or for continuing to facilitate takeout orders.
Over at Marchitelli’s, the restaurant put up an outdoor tent shelter to place tables, with an additional 18 seats on AstroTurf in a couple of parking spaces. On Sunday, the restaurant did 28 takeout orders and another 20 to 25 dinners for people who sat down. “Like everyone, we are definitely learning as we go,” Marchitelli said Tuesday as he helped install plastic separators between booths. “There is going to be a lot of learning. One negative thing with these capacity restrictions is that I am probably going from having 12 staff members on each night to eight. I’m not sure what those workers will do. And frankly, then I’m a little scared of finding enough employees if we can go back to 100 percent capacity.”
Hartigan at the Steep is in the same boat. “In summer during the day we have 26 people working,” she said. “At 25 percent capacity we’ll have 10 and at 50 percent capacity we will use 13 or 14 people. We’re still trying to figure it all out. We lost some of our regular staff through this period and I am worried about going back to 100 capacity. I don’t think we’ll easily find enough people to work at that level.”
But for now, Hartigan said they are just very excited to be open and look forward to serving their customers. “We are taking this one day and even one order at a time,” she concluded.