It’s unusual for a major renovation project to be completed ahead of schedule, and (you might reasonably assume) even more unlikely that this could take place during a pandemic.
Yet that’s the case in Mountain Village. Originally slated to reopen its doors at the end of this month, the new grocery store will officially open for business Thursday, May 21.
The opening can’t come soon enough for Village residents, who’ve been without a local supermarket since October, when reconstruction began.
It can’t come soon enough for second-home owners, who’ve been anxiously contacting Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association President and CEO Anton Benitez about it.
“Oh my gosh! Everybody’s excited,” Benitez said. “We have strong relationships with everyone who lives here, and I’m getting tons of emails saying, ‘I’m planning my trip. I just want to be sure the market is open.’”
And the opening likely can’t come soon enough for the market’s new owner, John Buxman, Jr., because it will symbolize the successful completion of a project upended by a pandemic, which could easily have turned into a nightmare.
Instead, Buxman characterized the project as “a really neat milepost” in “a freaked out time. To have the opening of this store surrounded by this whole Covid thing,” he said, “you’ll always remember it.”
That there is even a gleaming new market, “spacious, well-lit and fully stocked,” as a press release puts it, with (to take one example) “more than 200 specialty cheeses” is somewhat of a surprise. By the time the pandemic arrived in mid-March, Buxman recalled, “the lion’s share” of construction was completed.
“We had a lot of people still on the job,” he said.
“We had to work with the (San Miguel) county to get a variance so people could even keep working,” Benitez recalled, “because they shut all construction down. We were able to keep going because a grocery store is considered an essential service.”
The good news was, renovation could continue. The bad news: most of the workers would have to go: new social-distancing requirements stipulated that not only did everyone need to stay six feet apart from everyone else, there could only be 10 people on the job at any one time.
Not 10 people inside and 10 outside. Ten total.
“It slowed things down a lot,” Buxman said. “Trifecta Construction was awesome” the way they managed their team. “They had people working all night. I think some people were really happy to have the work.”
The result is that the store will be open earlier than scheduled. Yet because of county health orders, certain features (such as the indoor seating area replete with large-screen television and gas fireplace “for colder days”) won’t be immediately available; the hot and cold food bar, and soup and salad bar, and an extensive selection of bulk foods will be off-limits right now as well.
“All of our beautiful things,” Buxman said wistfully. He understands discriminating shoppers: Buxman’s family managed the market in downtown Telluride years ago, and operates grocery stores in Avon, Snowmass, Moab, and other resort areas.
“There’s still a real shortage of paper products, and of course, now there are shortages of beef and pork products. Every time you turned around it was something. It’s really a bummer to have a store open and not have it be completely full,” Buxman summed up. “We contemplated waiting until we could do it right. The feedback we got from people was, ‘Hey, we just want a store. We want our store back.’”
He understands — both the importance of reopening a badly needed market (particularly now, when many are staying home), and the threat of the novel coronavirus.
“This community was appropriately alarmed” at the arrival of Covid-19 “and has been steadfast about the way they’re handling” the pathogen’s presence, Buxman said. “We’re respectful of how dangerous it is.”
Instead of heralding the market’s return with a bash for the community, Thursday’s opening “will be understated,” he said. “We’re just opening the doors. The wrong thing to do would be to throw a party.”
When it comes to eradicating the virus, “Everybody here reflects the attitude of, ‘Let’s keep our foot on the throat of this thing for a while longer,’” Buxman summed up. “We will be, too.”