Grand Illumination at Union Station sees reduced crowds as Denver tightens restrictions

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DENVER — The Grand Illumination at Union Station helps boost business downtown. This year, it landed on the same day the city entered Level Red and tightened restrictions limiting activities and scaling back restaurant business.

The holiday lighting came more than a week early this year. Last year, a huge stage was set up in front of Union Station for entertainment and hundreds were in attendance, but this year there was no stage, entertainment was limited, and small groups of people gathered to see the lighting with their masks.

Denver entered Level Red on the state’s COVID-19 dial at 5 p.m. along with 19 other counties, and restaurants were hit the hardest. They were restricted to take-out, curbside or outdoor dining.

Joshua Smith is a lead bartender at Stoic & Genuine.

“We draw a big crowd for Christmas,” he said.

The restaurant set up a tent and heaters to keep customers warm. While there was some business, he says it doesn’t compare to last year.

“This year it’s especially hard on us and we are doing the best we can,” Smith said.

A manager at a coffee shop nearby recalled a line out the door and a wait time of up to ten minutes in 2019, but business was slow this time around: No wait and few clients before and after the tree lighting.

Denver’s “Home by 10” order as well as the city’s last call by 8 p.m. made time an important thing to consider for anyone wanting to grab a drink or a bite after the show.

“It’s getting close to shut down time, we should probably eat first then look at the rest of the lights,” Steve Hulsberg said.

A family visiting from Miami was als bundled up for outdoor dining.

“We tried to prepare as best we could with the hats and the gloves and we are looking for places that have heaters,” Janette Torres said.

Last year, Jessica Bonanno and her friends hit the bars and restaurants after the tree lighting, but this year, her only plans were to see lights and call it a night.