In addition to changing all of our lives, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on Boulder’s wealth of small businesses over the past week as the March 17th public health order issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decreed a mandatory 30-day close to all bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, and casinos.
The coronavirus has reached up to 183 cases in Colorado alone as of Tuesday, March 17th with 11 in Boulder County. People could be carriers or have symptoms for up to a week without even knowing it.
This puts many small locally owned businesses in jeopardy. Their leases don’t stop and neither do their owners’ expenses, except for the staff they release or furlough, which creates its own ripple effect.
While the federal government considers a $300 billion small business relief measure and the U.S. Small Business Administration rolls out an economic injury disaster loan program for small businesses, many Boulder small businesses are feeling the heat, and some may not make it out on the other side.
“The survival part of this scenario hasn’t begun yet,” says Dave Query, owner of local restaurant group Big Red F, which owns local restaurants Centro, West End Tavern, Jax Fish House, Post Brewing Co., and more. “The plane just crashed. We are taking an inventory of what is left and implementing a survival plan.”
“The business has changed 1000% percent,” Dave says. “Running restaurants has changed forever. Many folks will not make it eight weeks. Many small independent restaurants and groups like ours will never make it through this.”
“The restaurant business is a cash-flow model. Our margins are tight, but we can count on cash flow everyday. When there is no business, many restaurants don’t have a huge surplus of cash laying around for the day when you’re told with very little notice to plan and prepare that you have to close.”
As part of Boulder’s 80 percent of businesses with 20 employees or less (qualifications of “small business”), Mustard’s Last Stand, the popular Chicago-style hot dog joint ran out of both Denver and Boulder for the past 42 years, is one of those. Owner Dan Polovin has decided to shutter the business for 10 days and then reassess.
Businesses are handling the change in a variety of ways. Many establishments have transitioned to takeout and delivery only. Mustard’s owner Dan Polovin has shuttered operations completely starting March 16th for 10 days with a plan reevaluate after making sure his staff are healthy. Boulder restaurant Arcana has rolled out a pay-what-you-can takeout service. Amana Yoga is offering virtual yoga and meditation classes. Many other businesses are adapting as well.
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As cv hits local industry hard, businesses are doing what they can to support the community. @arcanarestaurant is offering meals on a pay-what-you-can basis for pick up + delivery with all proceeds going to staff support. We think that's pretty amazing. ? . RE-POST @arcanarestaurant . Tomorrow at 4pm Arcana will no longer be a "restaurant". Arcana is now an isolated community service and resource center. We will be providing meals on a pay-what -you-can basis, for pick-up or delivery. We are here to help. It is our only purpose. We are operating in isolation, we are healthy, we are stopping any interaction with the public within our walls. We are beginning this service with 4 meal options. The menu can soon be found on our website and will be posted to our social media accounts. Several items will be available for free to those in need. Other meals will start at $10. Our menu will change as we work through product and we assess need. If we are more useful serving free meals, we will switch to that product mix. We are not doing this to make money, we are doing it because it needs doing. We can, so we will. 100% of the proceeds of this program will go into a fund to support our staff in this time. If the community supports this program, we will build a bigger fund to help support other restaurants employees as well. The fallout of this for ownership will be realized later, right now it is 100% about our hourly staff. We will not take "tips", all additional gratuity will go into a communal pot for our staff. If you can, please give, it will go directly to those in need. Arcana is not attempting to offset our losses, we are providing a service on a non-profit basis. . To place orders, call 303-444-3885. If you leave a message, we will return your call. Leave a message anytime. We will begin answering the phones tomorrow at 1pm. Soon, we should have an online ordering system running. Meals will be available for delivery or curbside pick-up, we will not be letting anyone in the building. We will be using every single precaution. . If you can afford it, consider supporting other restaurants as well. We are operating this way because we can, others need support too.
Of course, Boulder small businesses fit into a larger looming recession, which will be perhaps the bigger second wave of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Where we sit now, looks like a recession is almost certain. Will see negative growth in GPD in the second quarter nationally and could very well spill into 3rd,” says Brian Lewandowski, executive director of business research division of CU’s Leeds School of Business.
Several small business owners BLDRfly has spoken with say their businesses are in serious jeopardy.
Mustard’s Last Stand is just one business in limbo. We dive in a little to give more color to what Boulder small business owners are facing at this time.
The hardest thing Dan faces right now while in limbo is thinking about his 25 staff between the two locations that need the work for food and shelter. It will be hard to employ the full crew with take out and delivery, but he does not plan to leave them high and dry.
“We had about 100-200 customers in our store on Sunday and lots of delivery drivers and vendors,” Dan says. “If we really want to take it seriously, why not take it to the next step.”
“You open for takeout and start employing people … it’s basically a whole new business model,” says Dan. “Not a whole lot of comfort because it’s still new.” Life is more important than business, but this will rock the finances of many local families.
Even before COVID-19 hit, Mustard’s has stood in limbo as Boulder’s new Civic Center Master Plan involves moving all of the people in the buildings from the civic area spanning 9th Street to 14th Street and Canyon Boulevard to Arapahoe Avenue to the new civic center that will be built at the Alpine-Balsam location with the ultimate goal of tearing down the current buildings and converting the area into wetland.
Due to Daily Camera’s 2013 headline “Boulder’s Mustard’s Making its Last Stand,” and people not actually reading the story, Dan has been battling misinformation and answering questions daily over the last five years from people who think he’s been going out of business.
“People have been thinking we’re going out of business for the last five years,” Dan says. “Until you see the wrecking ball, we’re here.”
Header Image: Boulder’s “Hearts on a Swing” Sculpture by George Lundeen anonymously gifted a mask. Image: Paul Hagey.