Local businesses continue to see decreased revenue amid COVID-19 pandemic

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer
Local businesses continue to be dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and owners are now honing in on government programs to help ease financial losses.
Davey Pitcher, president and CEO of Wolf Creek Ski Area, explained that having to lay off hundreds of workers from the ski area has been one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic.
“We had 342 employees at the time that the governor wanted to have ski areas shut down, so it was a pretty big impact for them,” Pitcher said, noting the ski area had to lay off all employees, both seasonal and year-round. “Certainly we’ve been trying to participate in the various government programs through the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security] Act. We haven’t been successful yet, but it’s still early.”
Pitcher explained that Wolf Creek takes in its biggest revenue of the year during March, with about a third of all business for the year typically occurring during the month.
Pitcher explained that Gov. Jared Polis’ order to close all Colorado ski areas on March 14 came at the worst time economically for the ski area, as he was less than halfway through his biggest money-making month of the year.
Pitcher is still holding out hope that ski areas could be allowed to reopen in early May and that he’d be able to hire back some of his employees if that happened.
Realtor Lee Riley explained in an interview how the real estate landscape has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, explaining the safety measures he takes when showing a house.
“Nobody touches anything,” Riley said. “I turn on all the lights and turn ‘em off and sanitize it on the way in and sanitize it on the way out, and people go in and get out. This is not a time that we let lookie-loos just wander around looking at houses unless you’ve been pre-qualified or, even better than that, pre-approved.”
Riley explained he had a very strong first quarter, but anticipates the second quarter “to be 180 degrees from what it was.”
Robbie Schwartz, co-owner of Spectrum Construction, explained a few projects that were set to go ahead have now been pushed back at least a year.
Schwartz explained that Spectrum has had to lay off some employees and explained that there’s still many bills to be paid to operate the business amid the pandemic.
Schwartz explained that office rent, advertising, equipment storage, insurance on the construction equipment, insurance on vehicles, general liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance premiums are still due, even while construction slows amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Dave Shaeffer, co-founder of the Pagosa Medical Group, explained visits at the clinic are down about 30 percent and that revenue is down about 50 percent compared to last year.
Many business owners who spoke with The SUN cited that March is generally their busiest month and the lack of tourists to the Pagosa Springs area has provided a big hit to their business.
“Our business is slower mainly because there’s no tourists in town and people aren’t skiing,” Shaeffer explained. “So, at this time of year, at the end of spring break, we’d still be seeing a lot of skiers, ski injuries, plus cold and flu [patients].”
Schaeffer explained the government programs that he’s looking at applying for financial assistance from.
“One is the Small Business Administration loan that we applied for and the next one is the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program. That’s one that — there’s a good chance that that one will be forgiven, part of the stimulus where as long as we keep our employees on the payroll and keep paying them, despite the lower volume, they’ll forgive that money down the road … Medicare which is a big part of our practice, Medicare is going to pay us … They’re going to look back in time and see what they paid us for the last three months and then basically forward us that payment for the next three months,” said Schaeffer, noting that the Medicare payments would have to be paid back “at some point, but not soon.”
Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) has seen impacts with its patient volumes, planned projects and more.
“It’s had a significant impact on all our volumes with the exception of inpatient,” said Kathee Douglas, PSMC’s chief operating officer.
“We know that our gross revenue for March was about a million dollars under budget and it was $327,000 under what we did in March last year,” PSMC CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb said. “March was not a great month for us in 2019.”
Webb noted that the medical center’s finances for January and February were great, but PSMC’s revenue went into the red once it stopped performing elective surgeries.
Douglas pointed out that March’s decrease will continue to impact the center in the coming months with lowered cash collections.
Webb explained PSMC is applying for funding to help with business expenses.
“It was already going to be a tight year for us because of our HVAC project. At this point we’re not sure we’ll be doing the HVAC project, we just are on hold with that until we see what happens with this pandemic. But now, with this, it will be a … it’s going to be a hard year for everybody. We run a tight margin just like our area restaurants, so I just know that it’s going to be a challenge,” she said.
Webb explained PSMC also asked for voluntary reductions in pay from staff members who could afford it.
“We were very moved by the number of our employees who voluntarily” cut time, even an hour or two, to help PSMC’s bottom line, she said, noting PSMC has not laid anybody off.
The Kroger Company, which owns the Pagosa Springs City Market, has provided a “Hero Bonus” for its employees during the coronavirus outbreak.
The supermarket chain will provide all frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates a $2 bonus above their standard base pay for hours worked March 29 through April 18, according to a press release from the company.
Business interruption insurance
Some local businesses have applied for “business interruption insurance.”
Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Jo Coulehan explained that all businesses she has spoken to who have applied have been denied.
Business interruption insurance typically includes coverage for things like a natural disaster, according to TrustedChoice.com, but Coulehan noted that insurance does not cover business closures due to a government order.
Coulehan explained that Chambers across the nation are petitioning that the insurance language be changed to include losses due to a government mandate for businesses to shut down.

This story was posted on April 10, 2020.