Safer-At-Home Order Sets the Stage For Belated Homecoming
~ by Rick Langenberg ~
After a month a half slumber, the “City Above Clouds” has awakened, and is showcasing brief glimpses of life again.
For the first time since late March, retail shops, specialized services and many other businesses in Woodland Park were allowed to resume operation on a limited basis. Business owners had one overriding message: Welcome Back. In fact, the town was peppered with a few bold signs, outlining special sales, a rare sight for an area that resembled a mini-ghost town or abandoned outpost for weeks.
Still, the business homecoming has a long way to go. Due to the extensive regulations for reopening, some businesses, such as the Great Clips hair salon chain, have announced a delayed reopening. The state has compiled extensive 30-plus page guidelines for businesses to follow, such as rules for masks, sanitation and protective barriers.
However, this did not put a damper on the festive reopening spirit that occurred last weekend.
“It has been too long. Enough time has passed,” said Merry Jo Larsen, owner of the Cowhand, and a long-time veteran business owner and mini-spokesperson for the downtown business community. “We have to get rolling here again.”
And the response since the Cowhand and other retail stores reopened has been a super warm welcome, according to business owners. “They are glad we are open. We want to spend some money with you,” added Larsen, in describing the warm greeting they have received from both local and out-of-town customers.
In fact, Larsen said the local business community is celebrating the reopening by announcing a Battle of the Bands fundraiser later this month on May 30 and May 31 at Woodland Station. The event, sponsored by the Ute Trail Stampede, will give the town a chance to kick off the summer season. The Cowhand owner, who is almost regarded as the pioneer of the city’s rodeo tradition, believes the open space area at Woodland Station will offer a prime and safe environment for an event, with the social distancing requirements.
Larsen, like many local business owners, says the town offers a fairly safe environment against the coronavirus threats. “We are going to have to do common sense safety. If you are sick and don’t feel good, don’t come in our store,” said Larsen.
Local businesses last weekend differed on that approach, with some, such as William’s Log Cabin Furniture outlet, urging masks for the customers and the store operators. But like the Cowhand, the store owners, Jerry and Vicki Good, echoed the sentiments of a belated homecoming last weekend.
“We really missed our customers,” said the William’s Log Cabin owners, who like a few of the shops, are doing special sales on specific items. They have reported a bullish restart so far.
“It has that real home-town feel,” said Jerry Good. “This town is crazy politically. But people are really glad that we are open. People are pretty respectful.”
Still, they admit some concerns linger about the coronavirus threat, and they hope local business operators abide by the new rules. “It just takes one pee in a pool to ruin everything,” quipped Vicki Good.
Tanner Coy, the owner and president of Tweeds Fine Furnishings, also welcomed the reopening of the retail core of Woodland Park. “We are very happy to be open. It was a very cold and lonely time to be a business owner in Woodland Park,” said Coy, in describing the last month a half, when Tweeds and other non-essential businesses were forced to close their doors. They could do some online sales, but the restrictions were brutal. “We were down maybe 90 percent,” said Coy, who serves as the treasurer for the Downtown Development Authority.
The Tweeds owner says there is still some apprehension among their regular customers, who are mostly part of the 55-plus crowd. That is the main sector of the population considered the most at risk for the pandemic. “People are still concerned,” admitted Coy.
That said, the Tweeds owner still cited a celebratory feel among local shoppers last weekend. “People are happy to get out and want to support small businesses and American-made products,” he said.
The town last week featured a number of special sale signs. But some shops contained special notices, such as Great Clips, informing customers of a delayed reopening due to the extensive rules. Specialty shops, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, can reopen but must follow strict guidelines.
The look of a bad hair day, with some senior citizens and baby boomers, resembling the appearance of a “Woodstock” reject, prevailed in the last few weeks. Yes, the Arlo Guthrie and David Crosby aging rocker looks have been a common sight, even by this writer.
Elective Dental Treatments Are Back
The new reopening was also welcomed by local dental and medical businesses, which were virtually crippled during the forced shutdown. “This was probably the safest place you could be (during a coronavirus epidemic),” said Greg Rodriguez, manager of Forest Edge Dental Care, who contends that dental businesses often received a bad reputation during the pandemic.
For the last month and a half, he said their business, which features offices in both Woodland Park and Cripple Creek, was down by more than 90 percent. “We could only do emergencies for pain, bleeding or swelling. Our dentists had to practically work for free,” related Rodriquez.
Plus, like so many local businesses, they were forced to furlough their support staff and just operate with a few employees. “I hated doing that,” said Rodriguez.
Now, Forest Edge is back in action, and can do a full lineup of elective treatments, which constitutes the lion’s share of their business.
But for many specialized services, such as dental offices, times have changed. “Our costs of doing business have definitely gone up,” said Rodriquez.
According to Andrea Montano, a dentist at Forest Edge’s Woodland Park office, they now must abide by stringent coronavirus protection standards, including the use of air purifiers and hydrogen peroxide and all forms of protective equipment. “We are taking the best precautions,” said Montano. She also said they are following the latest state-of-the art, post-coronavirus advancements offered by the Colorado Dentistry Association.
On the upside, the extended closure has given a number of businesses a look into the future, with the all-virtual meetings and consultations without physical attendees. During the extended closure, Forest Edge communicated with patients experiencing pain, via the latest tele-dentistry methods. Montano said she frequently attended webinars to get the latest information in grappling with the coronavirus threat.
Their end product, according to Forest Edge representatives, has resulted in a super safe environment.
Restaurants and Bars Next to Reopen
This week, the return to work for all local offices, with a 50 percent reduced workforce continues.
The next stage of the reopening will involve local eateries and bars, which now can only offer take-out service.
Some eateries, such as The Pantry in Green Mountain Falls, have gotten quite creative with the serving of nightly dinners. Still, they are operating at a fraction of the business they normally receive, according to the business owners.
Dine-in service for area restaurants could occur by the middle of May, but it won’t be the same, with strict social distancing requirements. Under some of the guidelines offered across the country, restaurants may only be permitted to operate at a 25 percent capacity level.