As new restrictions, guidelines and developments continue to occur at a rapid pace at the county, state and national levels to curtail the spread of COVID-19, offseason has come early to the usually bustling streets of Telluride in mid-March. On Monday morning, county officials issued a public health order closing all bars and restaurants for at least 48 hours in an effort to take appropriate actions to avoid the spread of the virus, which is commonly referred to as the coronavirus. By Monday evening, Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order shuttering all restaurants and bars for dine-in service, as well as casinos, coffee shops, gyms, theaters and other hotspots for gathering places, for at least the next 30 days. Take-out and delivery service is still permitted.
Health officials at both the state and local level have acknowledged the acute difficulty of making these decisions, knowing the economic strain that would inevitably result for both workers and business owners.
“It was a very tough decision for Grace (Franklin, San Miguel County public health director) and I this morning,” said Dr. Sharon Grundy, the county’s medical officer, at Monday’s special meeting. “I did not have this decision last night. This was waking up and thinking we can not have 50 people standing in BIT, for example, trying to get through.”
With the ski mountain officially closed as of Sunday, per Polis’ executive order to close all Colorado ski resorts, Telski — Telluride’s largest employer — has been busy closing down operations for the season, helping guests rearrange travel plans, issuing refunds and myriad other considerations triggered by the swift shutdown, according to Telski CEO Bill Jensen. With local businesses facing the sudden closure, loss of income, and how best to support employees and the community, business owners and managers find themselves having to act quickly during this unprecedented time.
“We had everyone in management working on next steps until about 10 p.m. on Saturday after we learned the order was going to be issued,” Jensen said. “We had to operationally close the ski area, which takes several days to put things away, take down signage, run lifts and close the company, effectively until April 5,” noting that the goal was to have the shutdown process complete by the end of the day Wednesday, and that seasonal employees will continue to be paid for another week following the closure Saturday night.
While acknowledging the financial blow as “impactful,” Jensen said the resort has seen about 10,000 more skiers this year compared to a couple years ago, when the resort weathered a very low snow year. Ultimately, he said, he agrees with the governor’s decision.
“People’s lives are more important than any business,” he said. “This is a serious pandemic, and it’s all of our responsibility to protect each other.”
As of Monday at 3 p.m., all restaurants and bars officially joined the swiftly growing number of business closure, though some are remaining available to the community for take-out orders only.
“It was already something we were thinking about doing, switching to just take out,” said Lucas Price, owner of La Cocina de Luz. “But at this point, we are doing that now.”
The Mexican restaurant, he said, will be taking phone orders from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday, and customers will need to come pick up their order at the front, where the ice cream bar is located during the summer, with credit cards encouraged to avoid the handling of cash. He also encouraged people to keep their eyes out for a tomato sale on Wednesday or Thursday.
“We accidently ordered way too many organic tomatoes, and will be selling them at wholesale cost,” while implementing the recommended social distancing practices on the sidewalk outside the restaurant.
As for business, he said, “Well, it’s horrible. I remember looking at those photos of the waiters standing around in Venice and Milan, and thinking, ‘Man, that looks bad,’ and now here we are.”
He remains hopeful, however, that there will be elements of the proverbial silver lining to these devastating events.
“I’m working to stay optimistic, working to be a good example in the community, to have courage, faith, love and generosity,” Price said. “And that’s an important lesson to examine and to work with, to all come together and to be supportive of each other. It gives us an opportunity to realize that we are all one.”
New Sheridan general manager Ray Farnsworth also spoke to his concern for the community and how restaurant closures will adversely affect not only business owners but the workers who were relying on a busy month of work.
“We’ve opted to give all hourly employees a $300 check in addition to their hourly as a way to say thank you and to help bridge the gap, and also to waive the remaining balance of ski passes,” he said, as ski passes can be deducted incrementally from worker’s paychecks throughout the ski season, while acknowledging the severe impact that closures will have on many workers.
“As of Tuesday morning, we are completely closed for the rest of the season,” Farnsworth said. “Between cancellations and the closure, the business suffered losses in the six figures for the month of March and the first few days of April that we had planned on being open,” he said, while expressing hope that the current measures will enable an opening in mid-May for the summer season.
While businesses around the county are struggling to orient and adapt to the quickly changing new reality, the Wilkinson Public Library is also getting creative to find ways to serve the community after closing over the weekend.
“We are really promoting our digital resources hoping that library users can discover these tools, which include access to ebooks, downloadable audiobooks, films, research databases, great courses and so much more,” library director Sarah Landeryou said. “We expanded access by increasing the ‘throttles’ on the number of checkouts (allowed per digital item), subscribed to new services, like Tumblebooks.”
She added that while the exact dates of implementing new services has not yet been decided, managers are looking forward to finding ways to provide library services such as “curbside pickup, holds, prints and copies, pop-up libraries, video how tos,” while following recommended health protocols.
“It's important that we keep the staff and community healthy, and we want to do our part,” Landeryou said, “but also try to provide library services that can hopefully improve someone's day.”