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The Town Pump has been there through a century of trouble since its founding in February 1909: the Spanish flu, Prohibition, both world wars, Vietnam, the Great Depression and Recession, and 9/11.
Through it all, Fort Collins’ smallest bar in the heart of Old Town adapted and survived, building a big reputation that exceeds its 400 square feet.
Now, after 10 months of uncertainty, the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing the Town Pump to its knees, owner Jake Latendresse said. “We’ve been through it all but this is probably the most challenging time in the history of the Town Pump: COVID 19, 2020.”
Like he did in June when the bar was within weeks of closing, Latendresse improvised and supporters came through to save the bar. Now, he hopes those who love the iconic landmark will come through again. The Town Pump and Latendresse launched a GoFundMe page Wednesday with a goal of raising $75,000.
“Right now we are facing economic catastrophe,” Latendresse said in a video posted with the GoFundMe page.
Without an infusion of cash, “we can’t survive, we can’t pay the bills. We can’t pay employees. We can’t order inventory. We can’t do anything,” said Latendresse, who bought the bar in 2000 after working there for a decade. “We’re handcuffed.”
The Town Pump doesn’t like to ask for help, he said. It likes to be the one helping. “But times are desperate and we need the help.”
Latendresse dipped into his personal savings, added a front patio and revamped its cash-only model to a card payment system to try to save the city’s oldest bar.
He’s done everything city, county and state officials have asked and now he needs a hand.
“If everyone who supports the Town Pump all over the world does a little bit,” Latendresse said, “I believe we can save the Town Pump. If we raise enough money we can probably survive the crisis we’re in. We appreciate all the support from all over the world.”
The GoFundMe effort appears to be paying off. As of midday Thursday, the page had raised more than $57,000 of the goal with more than 1,000 individual donors tossing in as little as $5 to more than $1,000.
The money should get the Town Pump through the winter and into May’s warmer temperatures, Latendresse said. “Worst case, nothing changes (with indoor dining) but we will be able to open the patio space and operate at 70% revenue,” as they were before the second shutdown on Nov. 24, Latendresse said.
The support, including from Odell Brewing Co., which cans Town Pump Ale, and his landlord Palmer Properties, means everything, he said. “This whole thing is so emotional. I know it’s not me, it’s the Town Pump. It is saving itself.” The support “has been overwhelming.”
Weathering a storm
Throughout Fort Collins, restaurants and bars have dealt with two shutdowns, limited capacity and other restrictions that have slashed revenue. Many, including the Town Pump, have opened sidewalk patios to enhance capacity. But with just 416 square feet and no indoor dining at the moment, the bar is making 20% of its previous gross revenue.
In late December, Larimer County got approval from the state for the 5-star variance program — known locally as the Level Up program — that allows businesses that meet certain requirements to have more capacity than county restrictions currently allow.
For example, Larimer County’s Level Up-certified restaurants will be allowed to have up to 25% capacity or 50 people for indoor dining and extend alcohol sales until 10 p.m.
Even if Town Pump gets approval, 25% of capacity in his tiny space amounts to about six people.
Larimer County moved into Level Red restrictions Nov. 24, forcing restaurants to again halt limited indoor dining and shift to outdoor dining, takeout and delivery only. Last call for alcohol was shifted to 8 p.m.
Latendresse plans to close down for a couple of weeks to give himself and staff some breathing room while he applies for the Level Up program.
“I want to give them a break. They’re emotionally spent,” he said. “I want to give them a break to get away from it all, get their emotions in order and lift their spirits knowing they can come back to work.”
His employees, who Latendresse said have been working basically for free since the second shutdown, will be paid during their break. “Then they can come back to work after hitting the reset button and look forward” rather than not knowing if the bar would have to close.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at email@example.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.