When business owner Katelyn Huston learned Summit County was moving from level yellow to level orange restrictions on the state’s COVID-19 dial, she was “definitely surprised.”
Huston, who owns Barre Forte, is one of many local business owners adhering to additional restrictions as of 6 a.m. Wednesday. According to the Colorado Department of Health & Environment website, this means restaurants, gyms, fitness centers and events are limited to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. Personal services — including barbershops, salons and tattoo parlors — are limited to 25% capacity or 25 people, whichever is fewer. In addition, businesses still have to adhere to the 6-foot distancing rule.
Businesses approved under the 5 Star State Certification Program are permitted to operate under level yellow guidelines, which generally allow 50% capacity with some limits.
There is no change for personal gatherings, which remain limited to up to 10 people from no more than two households per the county’s health order, or retail business capacity, which remains at 50%.
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said local leaders, including herself and county Commissioners Elisabeth Lawrence and Josh Blanchard, tried to advocate to state leaders to keep the county in level yellow.
“We tried to express, through whatever channels we could identify, the specific dynamics of our community,” Pogue said. “We know there is mounting frustration from our locals, from our business community about the restrictions and the particular change to orange when we know that we are entering the mud season and that our numbers are going to quickly come down. So really, we were trying to identify and use whatever channels we could find to help the state understand the specific dynamics that we experience in Summit County in mud season.”
While the state did give the county four more days under level yellow restrictions than originally expected, it ultimately announced Monday, April 5, that the county would have to move backward on the dial to level orange.
“It’s inconvenient,” said Valerie Connelly, owner of Southern Exposure Salon in Dillon. “It’s becoming a little bit of a roller coaster, and the back and forth is, frankly, exhausting. I’m questioning the necessity of all of it.”
For small businesses, the 6-foot rule means establishments can hold only so many patrons, regardless of current capacity limits. Nevertheless, moving backward into level orange restrictions does impact whether clients and customers feel comfortable enough to leave their homes.
“Going backward doesn’t really affect my (capacity) numbers, but it certainly affects how people feel about coming in to work out,” Huston said. “That’s the biggest challenge, to be honest. Every time we go backward, it puts everyone back in that place of fear and not wanting to come out and do things. It really, really hurts our business.”
Connelly said the new restrictions cause clients to cancel or postpone appointments at the salon, which provides hair, tanning and nail services and also does weddings. Connelly said the business made $25,000 from its wedding division in 2019 but made only $2,000 in 2020. Connelly also said the business’s tanning services were “obliterated” last year. In total, revenue was down 40%.
Huston has seen a similar drop in business. She’s operated Barre Forte for nearly two years and said the studio has “dropped 50% in everything” since the start of the pandemic, meaning revenue and clients.
“It feels and looks really bleak right now; I’m not going to lie,” Huston said. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It feels pretty hopeless and feels like every month maybe things will get better, and then they don’t. It’s like pulling teeth to get people to even come in and try a class. Even if you can get them in to try, nobody wants to be buying gym memberships right now.”
Though her studio received government funding in November and December, Huston said she works three part-time jobs in addition to operating the studio to make ends meet.
“It’s really hard to stay positive for this long,” she said.
Looking ahead, Huston said she hopes restrictions loosen up in the near future.
“Let people figure out what they’re comfortable doing and what they’re not comfortable doing,” she said. “At this point, a year into it, how are we still being told as business owners how to operate our business?”
As county officials work on developing a plan for after the state dial framework expires later this month, restaurant owner Chad Washenfelder said he hopes leaders seek out the opinions of local businesses, especially the Breckenridge Restaurant Association. Washenfelder, who owns Breckenridge Tap House and Pho Real, said he also hopes to see Main Street in Breckenridge closed to traffic like last year, allowing a pedestrian-only downtown.
“It helped mitigate some of the business decline associated with the restrictions,” he wrote in an email.
Connelly also hopes county officials will consult business owners when setting local restrictions.
She said she understood that restrictions were put in place initially so hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. But more than a year later, she’s uncertain why restrictions are still so severe.
“We’re getting to a point where we’re not seeing that impact on infrastructure,” she said.
Because of this, Connelly said she is unsure what the goal is going forward.
“Where are we at now? Are we trying to control the population from doing what they would like and having freedoms that they should have?” Connelly said. “Are we keeping our businesses from making decisions that feel right and safe for their own business? Or are we still protecting our infrastructure? I don’t think we are. I think our infrastructure is fine, and I think it’s time to back off.”