Many Colorado restaurants have already closed. The ones still open aren’t sure how long they can weather coronavirus.
State data shows that even though restaurants have recovered some since April, the industry is still down thousands of jobs. More than 2,500 establishments have shut down since March.
In Winter Park, most are struggling to survive. Creative thinking has allowed some owners to keep their doors open, with a hope for the future when we can get back to some normalcy.
On any given summer night, the Winter Park Pub is packed with people enjoying a cold beverage and pub fare. The Pub is a local hangout that features live music, great pizza, a Taco Bar on Tuesday’s and arguably the Best Burgers in the Universe. Owner Jeff Williams and his partner have struggled to stay open with heavy restrictions on their seating capacity. “We have had some ups and downs. At the onset of the pandemic, we shut down, but we have really started to bounce back this summer,” said Williams. “People want to get out and mingle.”
The Pub has an outdoor patio area with ample space to make guests feel comfortable and Williams said they had started to recover some of their losses when Colorado Governor Polis implemented a 10 pm curfew on bars. The mandate was another hit to businesses like the Pub. “That makes it very difficult for our bottom line”, said Williams
With the coronavirus pandemic, there are no more normal summer nights at the Pub and they are not alone. Continued statewide safety measures limit seating to only 50 people indoors, making it difficult for most restaurants to cover their overhead. And the hits keep coming. There’s winter months to think about, when it’s not so nice to sit outdoors. After reducing staffing to accommodate just take-out and delivery orders early on in the pandemic, “rehiring workers has not been easy,” said Williams.
As the pandemic drags on, many businesses have outlasted federal financial relief and initial enthusiasm to adapt to a stay-at-home way of life. Recovery appears further away than many restaurants believe they can hold on. The restaurant industry already had a reputation as a challenging market with low margins and high turnover. The latest survey by the Colorado Restaurant Association found that 56% of restaurant members fear that if coronavirus conditions don’t improve, they’ll permanently close within a few months. Williams said, “We are lucky and qualified for some loans that helped bridge the gap.” The Pub is just one longtime local hangout pinching pennies to keep the doors open.
According to the latest data from the state’s Department of Revenue, the number of food and drinking establishments filing sales tax returns dropped 19.3% between March and May, to 10,604. That indicates that about 2,500 have either closed temporarily or for good. April saw a larger drop due to the one-month sales tax extension that let businesses delay payments until May 20.
If capacity restrictions continue, which is likely until a COVID-19 vaccine is approved, thousands of jobs won’t be returning anytime soon according to a Colorado Department of Labor report. Restaurants are currently reporting that their staff is about 63% of what it was last year at this time. The report estimates that across the industry, we’ve lost at least 87,000 jobs in our state.
In June, the state’s Department of Labor and Employment estimated that there were 66,400 fewer jobs in the accommodation and food services sector than a year ago. The number of jobs had increased in May and June as restaurants were allowed to partially reopen to in-person dining. But with 227,100 people employed in this category as of June, that’s 23% less than June 2019.
If you are thinking about getting out for a cold beverage or burger, stop in and grab a nice table on the patio at the Winter Park Pub or your favorite local hangout. Our local dollars will make a difference for owners who are facing an uncertain future.