Boulder’s small business owners grapple with staged reopening and its uncertainty

As staged reopening kicks in next week, Boulder business owners talk about new challenges, amid tempered excitement

By Tatyana Sharpton Apr 22 2020

Update: On Friday afternoon, April 24, Boulder County Public Health announced it has extended the stay-at-home order for another week, until May 8. Read more here.

After nearly four weeks officially in COVID quarantine, Governor Jared Polis announced during yesterday’s press conference that Colorado plans to phase its stay-at-home order into a “Safer at Home” recovery phase by end of day Sunday.

As some of you may already know, the state’s stay-at-home order expires on April 26. This means that starting then, our economic web will roll into a new phase of recovery and — hopefully — growth.

As the second phase of Boulder (and Colorado’s) recovery plan moves ahead with the reopening of some retail stores and services including salons, tattoo parlors, dental offices and more, caution still hangs in the air. Educational facilities remain closed, noncritical offices can only reopen at half capacity, the state prohibits gatherings of over 10 people, and vulnerable populations (those over the age of 60) are still encouraged to stay home.

Colorado’s efforts to flatten the COVID-19 infection curve have found some success, as Gov. Polis and state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy stated in Monday’s press conference that the state plans to support a sustainable recovery.

Polis indicated a goal of approximately 60 to 65 percent social distancing moving forward, which leaves wiggle room and more avenues for running errands and essential upkeep (and the governor still encourages masks outside the house), not a great deal less than the 75 to 80 percent distancing we’ve been working with.

Starting Monday, April 27, retail businesses can open for curbside delivery and on May 1 can open to the general public (with additional precautions.) Noncritical offices can open starting Monday, May 4.

New days on the horizon

Rachael Elrod-Martinez, who owns Moonlight Garden Acupuncture, plans to open her doors soon as she can, May 4. As a noncritical business, Rachael’s business shuttered its doors shut on March 27 — two weeks after she began wearing a mask.

Rachael Elrod-Martinez

Rachael, who opened her practice in 2018 and works alone, is still trying to figure out what hours she’ll keep.

“I’m not expecting my doors to flood,” Rachael said. “Or it might be just as busy … I don’t know if people are thinking, ‘I don’t want to do stuff other than what I have to,’ or if people are wanting to take their health more seriously and now is a good time to start.”

Like many other business owners, Rachael is playing it by ear. With a month out of business and no April revenue, Moonlight Garden Acupuncture’s cash flow has shut off. With no patients, it sees no income.

Rachael chose not to set up a Zoom account or do [much] remote work during the quarantine as she felt a month wasn’t enough to set up a good system to tear down when doors reopened. Though she has kept up with the immune-boosting herb and supplement side of her business, she did not build in a revenue structure for her herbs — she resells them to patients at cost with the tax added; so, while they have continued helping people, they brought in no profit.

When she reopens, you’ll find Rachael wearing a mask and gloves, though she is not sure how gloves will impact the massage element of her business. For now, she plans to stagger her patients at an hour and a half or two hours each, as opposed to previously doing back-to-back on the hour, and capping at three or four a day.

An unclear moral decision

Since Colorado has begun to see a steady drop in COVID cases since the stay-at-home mandate, some businesses are unclear about whether reopening now is a smart move. Masyn Moyer, who owns NoBo’s artisanal hair salon Mylk House, stands among the many owners who face an uncomfortable moral decision.

Masyn Moyer, founder of Mylk House.

We caught Masyn right as she finished up a Zoom call with her staff regarding Polis’s reopening measures. “It’s intense,” said Masyn. “I thought I was going to be on my Zoom call for 45 mins and we spent two and a half hours talking about it.”

In many ways beyond the pandemic, what businesses face now is the “weird construct between choosing financial survival over personal health and well-being.” And service industries like salons are especially challenged because clients who can’t get services from one place will go elsewhere

Right now, Mylk House has not made any firm decision about reopening. Though Polis declared it safe for noncritical industries to reopen starting May 4, business must weigh their own priorities around health and safety — which is a lot harder when there’s not a regulatory agency supporting that decision.

“We’re all a little unclear about what the reopening means,” said Masyn. “It leaves us unprotected and pits us now at having to make the decision … Like telling our clients that we feel it’s unsafe even though the governor says it’s okay. And there’s me as a hair stylist and me as an owner and me as a human being in the world. As owners we have to weigh that all out.”

Mylk House owner Masyn Moyer (right) with stylist Jessie Matthews. Image: Lisa Siciliano, owner of Dog Daze Photography.

Masyn noted that as soon as Polis gave his speech, she and another stylist received about 35 phone calls right away from clients wanting to get the first appointments or wanting to know what the books look like. Though she knows many people want to support Mylk House and help the salon get back on its feet, the measurement between financial health and personal health is at best…“weird.”

“If we’re all being real honest,” said Masyn, “we know this virus is not going anywhere. As a business owner it’s my job to look down the pike. I predict what’s going to happen is we’re going to open, (the town and the state) and we’re gonna see a spike [in COVID cases] and we’ll be closed by June. Then it becomes challenging as do we make the money we need to survive another closure now, do we take a personal stand and keep our doors closed?”

One thing Mylk House did get clear on, however, is that when they reopen, changes are imminent, with possibilities of everyone altering days so they have no more than two stylists in the shop, or even alternating half days, and disinfecting in between, with clients waiting in their cars.

Header Image: Mylk House during a First Friday art show in more social times. Image: Lisa Siciliano of Dog Daze Photography