One year later, business owners reflect on year that was with COVID-19 pandemic
Danny Griffith can still recall the smell of the corned beef and cabbage cooking in the kitchen.
Griffith, the owner of J.W. Snack’s, was in the middle of preparing his traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, consisting of 75 pounds of corned beef and cabbage for the Irish holiday. A few hours later, Governor Jared Polis announced the closure of restaurants statewide to dine-in services, and shut down local gyms the same day.
“I thought, gee, I hope we’re only shut down for a week or so,” Griffith said in a March 15 interview in the midst of preparing another St. Patrick’s Day meal. “We had 75 pounds of corned beef cooking, and had just bought groceries. All I knew was I had just bought $5,000 worth of groceries and I was told by the governor to close. I was a little upset. We had absolutely no heads up, no warning. They weren’t courteous at all.”
Fortunately for Griffith and other businesses in town, the community stepped up, lending significant support to their fellow residents as COVID-19 restrictions changed throughout the year.
While Griffith, who battled his own health issues due to COVID-19 throughout the last few months, was able to adjust and sell his traditional corned beef and cabbage as to-go meals on March 17 last year, he wasn’t prepared for what was to come.
“I was thinking they only wanted to shut us down for a week or so,” Griffith said. “Then I thought boy, I hope this doesn’t last for a week or two. Then my dining room was shut down for 72 days.”
“Closed“ signs citing COVID-19 popped up all around town, especially along Yampa Avenue in the downtown district, closing The Find and The Wine Bar, as well as Moffat Mercantile, and J.W. Snack’s following Polis’ original orders. Changes to coffee service at Downtown Books meant patrons could only take their coffee to go in the middle of March.
Other bar and grills such as the OP Bar & Grill, Rocky Mountain Chuck Wagon, and Gino’s Pizzeria all turned to takeout and delivery services as well as business owners tried to adjust on the fly.
Many food service businesses struggled to remain viable, but Polis said he was acting out of concern for the public health of the state.
A week later, Polis issued a statewide Stay at Home order, shutting all of Colorado down and greatly impacting local businesses in Moffat County.
Along with a number of other restaurants and small businesses in the community, Griffith went through struggles in keeping the doors open and employees paid.
“We took every day as a lesson in learning,” Griffith said. “Since there was no planning for it, there was no plan. We were flying by the seat of our pants. That went on for weeks. It took us awhile to figure it out.
“Everybody was in the same boat; we were all learning,” Griffith added. “Nobody had a heads up; everybody was scrambling. That’s exactly what it felt like. I didn’t want to lose any employees, I had food to get rid of. I worked as hard as I could to make sure we didn’t have to let any employees go.”
Working as hard as he did to keep his place open caught up to Griffith, when he caught COVID-19 and, as he explained, had a third brush with death in his life.
“What stands out to me is that I had two prior brushes with death, this one marked the third one,” Griffith said. I“ just hope that I don’t get that COVID again. It’s been a tough year, I ain’t gonna lie.”
That tough year affected not only restaurants, but small business owners and gym owners in town.
Like many other small businesses along Yampa Avenue affected by the shutdown, Kitchen a la More adjusted in a unique way as well, turning to weekly online Facebook Live sales built around a theme in an attempt to continue reaching customers despite having the store itself closed.
“I have a friend that we kind of met through the pandemic, she lives back east, and I saw that she had done a Facebook live sale of her own, so I wanted some ideas from here; she was a great resource for me,” said Lynette Siedschlaw, owner of Kitchen a la More.
“We just knew at that point that we were shut down for two full weeks, so we had to get creative outside of our four walls of the store and it was a great opportunity for us,” Siedschlaw said. “We obtained new customers that way.”
Without the adjustment in day-to-day operations, Siedschlaw said she’s unsure if the business, which opened in 2017, would have survived.
“It definitely kept us going,” Siedschlaw said. “Without that, i don’t know if we’d have made it. We also extended to curbside delivery and actual physical deliveries as well. We stayed pretty busy overall, which was great; the community has been great supporting local businesses this last year.”
Despite the key adjustment from a business perspective, Siedschlaw and her husband, Mason, were scared when the shutdown first hit, much like many other business owners in town.
“It was very scary in the sense of it’s going to make or break us, and I think it made us,” Siedschlaw said. “We learned that we shouldn’t take anything for granted, as literally overnight everything was shut down… We’ve had to adapt and survive.”
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