Berthoud Weekly Surveyor | Covering all the angles in the Garden Spot

Larimer County requesting variance to save small businesses

By: Dan Karpiel | The Surveyor | December 04, 2020 | Business

Following the decision by the Larimer County Board of Health on Nov. 20 to move the county to level four or “red” on the state’s COVID-19 dial dashboard, a groundswell among local small businesses emerged vowing to fight the restrictions which many business owners say is tantamount to a death sentence for their businesses and their employee’s livelihoods.

As reported by the Surveyor on Nov. 26, a group of Loveland small businesses formed the group Small Business for a Healthy Loveland. As of Wednesday morning, the group has had 95 small businesses of all types join their cause.

In Berthoud, Grandpa’s Café joined several other businesses in the county who have openly defied the county’s order, which allows no indoor dining and reduces capacity to just 10% and stated their intent to continue to operate under the level two or “yellow” level. The state has threatened to revoke or suspend various business licenses for those that refuse to comply, but the Surveyor was not able to find any business which has, as of Wednesday morning, been subject to any action from the state.

The group has lobbied both the county and the state of Colorado to implement a program similar to the one used in Mesa County whereby establishments who meet certain sanitization and other protocols to receive a waiver to operate under “yellow” level, which allows for 50% capacity. Under such a program, each business is judged individually rather than under a blanket, county-wide mandate. Working alongside various county economic groups, including local Chambers of Commerce, a push has been made to get the state to act.

A Dec. 1 press release from Small Business for a Healthy Loveland stated, “Larimer County shared details of the pilot amended 5 Star Program that the businesses have been requesting. In a business listening session with the Fort Collins and Loveland Chamber of Commerce, the county shared the details of the opportunity. The program, which the county says will be ready by next week, will be submitted to the state, and while CDPHE says that these programs can’t be approved in Red level, the county will make a case to the Governor for the pilot program on the front range.”

The group says they are “encouraged” by this development but that time is of the essence for them and their employees. “We cannot thank the county enough for their rapid response and listening to small businesses. We are all just trying to survive, keep our small business dreams alive, and our employees paid during the holidays,” said Clay Caldwell, owner of Betta Gumbo. “We know there are better solutions than just shutting businesses down, and we appreciate the county taking the steps to get us in a place where we can have rules to operate safely and save our businesses. Now we are imploring the Governor to approve this plan, our livelihood depends on it.”

For many, this is all about their employees and their families. Morgen Harrington, co-owner of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse and co-founder of Small Business for a Healthy Loveland, appeared on Fox News Channel on Tuesday morning and explained that she, “can’t look my staff in the face and lay them off again,” and added, “I refuse to do that before Christmas. We’ve got one woman that’s pregnant and she was in my office crying.”

In a small business listening session between multiple business organizations on Monday afternoon, held via Zoom conference and posted on YouTube, Mindy McCloughan of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce stated, “we are pressing the governor as heavy as we possibly can,” to get a pilot program similar the Mesa County plan approved for Larimer.

The Berthoud Area Chamber of Commerce has been working on implementing a variety of programs to assist local small businesses, particularly in the areas of marketing and advertising. Details of the programs can be found at Executive Director Melissa Feldbush told the Surveyor on Wednesday morning that the initial batch of funding for the well-received Berthoud Bucks program has been exhausted but that the Chamber is working towards securing more.

She said that some Chamber members are frustrated with the move to level red saying some views expressed go along the lines of, “the restrictions don’t always seem to make sense on who is impacted and why.” Feldbush said she is supportive of the efforts to get a Mesa-like variance approved in Larimer but that, “Developing a new program is going to take time and there is no quick solution no matter how fast it gets implemented but doing something will be better than doing nothing.”

County Commissioner Steve Johnson, who has been vocal in his support for allowing businesses, restaurants in particular, to operate with limited restrictions, shared data demonstrating that statewide, only 2.7% of all positives COVID-19 cases without a single death have been traced to restaurants and bars, yet virtually all of them state-wide have been shuttered or seen their allowed capacities greatly reduced.

Furthermore, Johnson shared data related to Larimer County which showed as of Dec. 1 that of 9,221 positive tests since the beginning of the pandemic, only 155 of them, or just under 1.7%, can be traced to restaurants and bars.

In a press release from Nov. 30, Small Business for a Healthy Loveland outlined what they believe to be a double standard that puts an inequitable and unfair burden on small businesses. The group argues that larger retail and grocery chains operate virtually unfettered, with a simple sign asking customers to wear a mask upon entering, while they have been required to make significant and expensive changes to their establishments while also operating at far less than full capacity. One Loveland restaurant outlaid over $3,000 for propane heaters and tents for their patio, which can seat just over 10% of their indoor capacity.

“While we appreciate the action of the legislature, CDPHE and the governor, we cannot help but feel this is a tale of two lockdowns. We, the small business owners, were forced to close in the Spring, then when we reopened at limited capacity while absorbing additional costs to build patios, improve ventilation systems and many other expenses all while big business was allowed to operate with little to no repercussions. Today, we are looking at exactly the same scenario: small businesses are being told to bear the brunt of the business closings while big business gets another pass,” the press release said.







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