Local business owners discuss economic effects of COVID-19

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer
COVID-19 has severely impacted businesses in the Pagosa Springs area.
The SUN interviewed a handful of local business owners and the stories were generally the same: Business is down over 70 percent for many; local companies are cutting more than half of their employees, sometimes more; and employers are working to find ways to help the laid-off workers amid the economic conditions that surround COVID-19.
“We’re trying to keep our entire staff going and we’re trying to do that so we can maintain the staff because it’s not easy to find a qualified technician,” said Bill Schwab, co-owner of Piedra Automotive.
Schwab explained his business is down 70 percent compared to the same week last year.
Schwab said his message for local community members was to “support local businesses” and said Piedra Auto is taking precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help mitigate the risk of clients and employees contracting COVID-19.
Schwab also noted in the past he’s petitioned local governments to spur growth in industries besides tourism so the local economy wouldn’t be so handicapped by the number of tourists in the area.
Bob Hart, owner of Mountain Pizza and Taproom, said that once Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order on March 14 that closed Colorado ski areas, including Wolf Creek Ski Area, Mountain Pizza immediately noticed a drop in sales.
“When I look at sales for last week compared to the same week a year ago, we’re about 80 percent off compared to a year ago,” Hart said.
Hart noted he hasn’t yet had to lay any employees off, but some staff hours have been cut about 50 percent.
“We really, really appreciate our customers that are still coming for takeout only, and supporting our business and employees by doing so,” Hart said.
Bill Delany, owner of Good Earth Meds, a local marijuana dispensary, reported he hasn’t had to lay anyone off, but business has suffered.
As of Tuesday, Delany explained, Good Earth Meds has transitioned to curbside service only.
Delany explained that, until a new order took effect Wednesday, dispensaries had a choice of whether to do curbside service or not, but it became mandatory yesterday.
Good Earth Meds will accept orders over the phone, but recreational marijuana payments must be made in person.
All ordering and payments can be made in person using Good Earth’s curbside service. Identification is always required and service is only available for those 21 years and up.
Smoke Rings Dispensary temporarily closed today and tomorrow to deep clean the facility to ensure employees and clients are safe. It will reopen on Saturday morning, according to Dianna Bell, who owns the business with her family.
Tony Simmons, owner of Pagosa Brewing and Grill, said that his business had taken a “dramatic hit.”
“We normally serve like 300 people a night and we’re not anywhere close to that,” Simmons said, adding, “We’re changing our entire business model from on-premise to off-premise.”
Simmons explained he’s trying to keep as many employees as possible but had to whittle down his payroll from about 50 to about 18 people.
Pagosa Brewing has online ordering and curbside pickup and is now doing delivery with a minimum $25 order.
Simmons’ advice for local residents: “Take care and take out.”
Local jewelry and fine art store Lantern Dancer decided to temporarily close its doors until May 1. Its online store is still in operation and can be accessed at LanternDancer.com.
“We believe for the safety and health of all in our community, it is best to close our store and to stay home,” Lantern Dancer manager Leanne Goebel wrote in an email to The SUN.
Jason Cox, co-owner of Riff Raff Brewing Company, said his business had to lay off a majority of its staff, citing how “extremely difficult” the circumstances are for everyone in the local community.
Cox explained that Polis’s executive order to close the ski resorts came at the worst economic time for Pagosans, as many local businesses use increased spring break revenues to stay in the black until the summer season.
Cox’s message to local Pagosans: “We’re all in the same boat, and we’re all friends and neighbors.”
Cox, who is also the broadband communications manager for the Archuleta County Broadband Services Office, reported that since about 1,700 Archuleta County students are now doing their work online, the Internet infrastructure has largely held up, noting that some areas, like around Hatcher Lake, are pushing full capacity.
The Springs Resort and Spa laid off “a large portion of its team” this week, according to a March 24 email to The SUN from Springs owner David Dronet.
In his email, Dronet outlined steps The Springs took to ensure “what’s best for our employees.”
“The lay-offs under state law provide the most immediate, and largest amount, of money to our team by compensating them for their earned time-off,” the email reads.
“We cut checks to our employees the same day for that time-off, as well as all wages earned up to that point, so they received funds immediately and ahead of regularly scheduled payroll check dates.”
Dronet wrote that lay-offs allow for “faster rehiring when this national emergency subsides.”
The Springs also set up a “Springs Family Pantry” where “our team can access food, supplies and other resources for free,” which Dronet noted in a phone call was set up to help laid-off employees.
A detailed list of business hours and operational changes businesses are making is regularly updated at PagosaSUN.com.

This story was posted on March 30, 2020.