Melanie Rieth sidled up to the The Cupboard’s back door in Montezuma Fuller Alley in Old Town just after 11 a.m. Monday.
A store employee brought out a bag that Rieth tucked into a saddlebag on her bike, and she pedaled off.
Rieth was an early customer Monday as The Cupboard, and many other retailers, took the first step toward a new normal, slowly reopening after the COVID-19 crisis shut the city and state down.
Sellers and buyers seemed to breathe a metaphorical sigh of relief, as if to say, “The crisis isn’t over, but maybe we’ll be OK.”
On Monday, Old Town began to lift up its head — like bears awakening from a winter’s nap — as the governor’s stay-at-home order transitioned to a safer-at-home order. Retailers who had been shut down were now allowed to open for curbside pickup. On Friday, they can begin opening their doors for a limited amount of customers at a time with certain guidelines to maximize safety.
Restaurants and bars, however, will not be allowed to reopen quite yet.
The Cupboard owner Jim Hewitt said his phone was ringing nonstop Monday with customers “who have been wanting to support us and communicated their desire to support our business,” Hewitt said by phone.
He expects a lot of pent-up excitement as stores reopen with new guidelines, including allowing 50% of employees in the store, limiting the number of people in the store to 10 at one time and requiring staff and customers to wear face masks.
“By now people have gotten more used to wearing masks as they go out,” Hewitt said. “It has become more the norm rather than the exception.”
Businesses get creative
As noon approached, a few people walked around downtown enjoying the warm spring sun, darting into Little Bird Bakeshop or Bean Cycle for a cup of coffee or pastry to go, window shopping or enjoying a peaceful and lightly populated Old Town Square.
Most wore masks; some ignored the state’s directive to cover their noses and mouths in public.
Businesses were getting creative to draw shoppers to their stores.
A chalk map on the sidewalk of College Avenue directed pedestrians to Mary’s Mountain Cookies, where cookies tempted the tastebuds from behind the glass storefront. If you press your nose against the window or give it a tap, an employee will ask you to point to your selection.
In the median of College Avenue, owner Mike Neal filled Mary’s Mountain cookie truck with stock for the day. The truck has been parked up near Horsetooth Reservoir for a couple of weeks to help spur business.
As part of the food industry, Mary’s Mountain Cookies was allowed to remain open for takeout and delivery. It closed for two days after the initial shutdown but turned their attention to shipping and delivering cookies.
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Neal was able to keep on his four full-time employees as they took the business a step further, ramping up the cookie truck efforts. He and employees devised a cookie slide to maintain “no-contact” purchases, and business started to build as customers were amused by the slide. He also qualified for and received money from the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program to keep his workers on.
A few doors down from Mary’s Mountain Cookies, Savory Spice Shop’s front door stood open, but a sandwich board in front reminded customers they weren’t allowed in. Owner Susan Kirkpatrick and her staff were busy filling online and phone orders for pickup when a frequent customer stopped by to pick up an order.
Life at the shop this week doesn’t look much different from the past few weeks, said Kirkpatrick, who was allowed to stay open for pickup orders and shipping as a type of grocery store.
But as she looked around North College Avenue, the former Fort Collins mayor said more people were out and about.
“People didn’t believe they could walk around,” she said. Now they know they can.
She expects to see more curbside pickups this week and “more people at my door shouting orders,” she said. But that won’t make up for the business she’s lost from tourism, which accounts for about 30% of her sales, she said.
Jayden Avalos at Bean Cycle said Monday was a busier day than they’ve seen during the shutdown. “With the stay-at-home order lifted, people are feeling more comfortable,” she said, even though the shop was empty just before noon.
At Clothes Pony, a tourist from out-of-state knocked on the door, inquiring about games for an 8-year-old. The woman was unaware the store had been shut down. Owner Becca Bramhall explained the situation, said they’d come up with some ideas and let her know.
The Clothes Pony doesn’t have a website, so online shopping has not been an option. But the store has been doing a lot of commerce over the phone, particularly before Easter.
“It’s been quite a roller coaster moment by moment,” said Bramhall, who owns the store with her sister Jenny. “Every hour we are second guessing ourselves about what we can and can’t be doing.”
They asked the city and Larimer County health department to rule the store as an “essential business” and allow them to stay open because they sell items that could be used by parents home schooling their children during the pandemic.
As of Monday, they had gotten verbal support from some council members but no official response from the health department, Bramhall said.
On May 1, Clothes Pony will operate by appointment only and allow two groups in at a time, including babies in arms or strollers. “We don’t want to do anything foolish,” she said. “We are being cautious.”
What’s up in Midtown?
Midtown Fort Collins remained quiet on Monday, although some businesses were taking advantage of the curbside pickup option for retail. JoAnn Fabrics and Barnes & Noble Booksellers had signs posted at their entrances where customers could wait to pickup orders placed online.
Other large stores, including Old Navy, Hobby Lobby, Arc Thrift Store and REI, remained closed. Foothills was largely a ghost town, with Macy’s, Nordstrom Rack, ULTA and other retailers still closed to the public. Dick’s Sporting Goods was open for curbside pickup.
Coloradoan reporter Jacy Marmaduke contributed to this report.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.
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