DENVER — The holiday season is typically a time for businesses to thrive, but with the largest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic yet hitting Colorado, they’re hoping support from the community will be enough to keep the lights on.
“This holiday could literally be the difference in a local business making it or not making it,” said Karen Stallard, the membership director at the Longmont Chamber of Commerce.
In the last week, more than 20 counties moved to Level Red restrictions on the state’s COVID-19 dial, which closes indoor dining and limits capacity for retail businesses and gyms. Businesses hoping for a boost during the upcoming holiday season are having to adapt again.
“The next couple months will literally determine whether or not their doors open next year,” Stallard said.
Stallard created a search hub on the chamber’s website to help customers navigate all of their local shopping options. She also created Takeout Takeover, which is a comprehensive list of food and beverage businesses in the Longmont area for takeout and delivery options. Stallard says even just purchasing a gift card is like writing a check for local businesses to stay open.
“It’s the people that make these businesses so special and are just such a backbone in the community that it’s heartbreaking to think what the community will look like on the other side of this if we don’t continue to rally on whatever endurance we have left,” Stallard said.
The pandemic has also impacted the chamber. As a 501(c)(6), their funding comes from their members. They can’t hold their typical large events, like their annual business celebration and award ceremony, Jubilee, which will now be virtual on Dec. 3. The chamber is also creating personalized “Longmont Celebration” boxes filled with gifts and gift cards from local businesses.
“If we intentionally try to support one another and try and create good in our communities, it can be as measurable as your own neighborhood or your own community, your own city,” Stallard said. “I think that that will have a real impact.”
According to Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kelly Brough, it’s been a challenging year for the businesses they support as well.
“If we can make really good decisions to protect each other through this, then we’re going to come out stronger and better,” Brough said.
Brough suggests shopping at local businesses outside of peak hours to avoid large crowds. For anyone not comfortable shopping inside a business, online shopping and picking up purchases curbside through local retailers will go a long way in providing support.
The Denver Broncos also announced a new program to highlight local businesses, Broncos Business Boost. Coloradans can nominate a business for the possibility to win prizes and get the word out about the nominated companies.
“They’ve become very creative,” Brough said of local businesses. “We’re asking their customers to become just as creative.”
One of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic has been the restaurants, many of which were recently forced to close their indoor dining. According to Laura Shunk, the communication director for the Colorado Restaurant Association, their November survey showed 60% of restaurants in Colorado would consider closing permanently in the next three months if an indoor dining shutdown occurred and 24% would consider closing within just one month. The industry has already shed 67,000 jobs.
“This is the biggest crisis the restaurant industry has faced in living memory,” Shunk said.
Dining outside, ordering food to-go and buying gift cards will make a difference.
The community can also donate to a grant program that will help provide businesses with the cash they need to adapt and survive. CRA has also created a database for restaurants to submit information on outdoor dining options, seasonal gift cards and holiday specials. In an Oct. 19 workshop, a group including design and construction professionals, public health officials and restaurateurs came together to come up with design concepts to help restaurants prepare for the colder winter months.
Shunk is also hopeful the special legislative session beginning Nov. 30 could lead to tax relief, financial aid and lower third-party delivery fees. Gov. Jared Polis also on Wednesday signed an executive order that extends the state sales tax payment deadline for 30 days for the month of November for restaurants, bars and food trucks for up to $2,000.
“It may not be the thing that saves restaurants from the brink, but it is definitely helpful,” Shunk said. “Restaurants have said over and over again that the two things they need to survive this crisis are cash and capacity.”
According to Shunk, public health officials have said takeout and particularly delivery options can be safer than going to the grocery store because there are less points of contact. She said with restaurants being so highly regulated even before the pandemic, guests should feel confident they’ll have a safe experience if they dine in-person. Shunk said restaurants also need the community’s help in slowing the spread of COVID-19 so restaurants can offer indoor dining again.
“Follow the public health guidelines,” Shunk said. “We need to turn these cases around and get restaurants open. That is really important to their ability to survive. And ask your elected officials to pass meaningful relief for this industry because without it, we are going to lose a lot of restaurants.”