Jeffco tourism businesses hit hard by COVID-19

Uncertainty abounds with summer season looming

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/8/20

At Golden’s The Dove Inn, the cancellations started out slowly. “I would say in early March people started canceling,” said Libby Foster, who owns the 10-bedroom Victorian inn on 14th Street …

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Jeffco tourism businesses hit hard by COVID-19

Uncertainty abounds with summer season looming

Posted

At Golden’s The Dove Inn, the cancellations started out slowly.

“I would say in early March people started canceling,” said Libby Foster, who owns the 10-bedroom Victorian inn on 14th Street with her husband, Regan. “And then because everyday things were drastically changing we did end up having a lot of cancellations in mid-March, especially when the stay at home order happened in Denver.”

By the start of April, what had started out as a trickle had become a flood thanks to concerns over COVID-19 and orders from many counties and states to stop all unnecessary travel.

“Things are sort of continuing to circle out and we are starting to get cancellations as far out as June,” Libby said.

That’s a big problem, Regan said, as the summer is the season when the inn sees the most bookings. The rate of cancellations, combined with uncertainty about how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, have left the couple unable to pay their bills and wondering how much money they will need to borrow to keep the inn afloat until things start to turn around, whenever that might be.

“Even when the stay at home order is lifted how will everyone else be affected financially?” said Regan. “People might go back to work but they may not go on trips on anymore. The big unknown is how long until people start traveling again.”

A Big Question

That’s a big question not only in tourist-heavy Golden but throughout Jefferson County, where tourism is a big piece of the economy and could represent a sector whose slow return could make a difficult economic recovery from the fallout of social distancing even worse.

The overall economic impact of COVID-19 on the county is one that Kristi Pollard, the President and CEO of the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation, said her organization is only just starting to “get its arms around” as it surveys businesses about the challenges its facing. Of course, even when that initial data comes back, there will be no way to really begin to know the impact until the rapid rate of the changes effecting businesses slows.

Still, the impact on tourism and tourism-related businesses like the Dove Inn is obvious, even if its extent is not yet understood.

“With social distancing it has created some real challenges not only for the different resorts and different things that are tourism-based but also for the manufacturers that create the equipment that is used in the outdoors,” said Pollard.

The challenges have been particularly acute for businesses like the Oh! Susanna Vintage Photo Studio that have to temporarily shut its doors entirely following Gov. Jared Polis’ enactment of a stay-at-home order requiring all non-essential businesses to close through April 11.

For now, owner Suzanne Restle says she’s trying to roll with the punches and remain hopeful.

“I’m not a person who gets caught up in all the fear of it all,” she said. “It’s just reality that if the business crashes its just kind of out of my control in a situation like this.”

Still, she said the challenge is clear for tourist-dependent businesses like her own.

“If the summer business isn’t there this summer and if there are no tourists and nobody is traveling that’s pretty much bad news for us,” she said.

However, the impact of a reduction in tourism is also something that can be felt well beyond the businesses that directly serve tourists.

Libby and Regan say that all of the items that make up the light breakfast they serve at the inn are from local businesses. But, all of those purchases have had to be halted for the time being.

Still, Regan said he is hopeful other businesses will find ways to support one another and that will help get things back on track. He’s going to partner with a nearby local charcuterie business to offer a special where those who book a room get a free charcuterie to enjoy in it and hopes to establish other similar partnerships.

Chamber urges hope

Larger scale efforts are also underway to help businesses weather the storm in Golden and elsewhere in the county. Golden Community and Economic Director Steve Glueck said the city has already announced a number of efforts, including a 50% April rent assistance program for downtown businesses, even as the situation continues to evolve.

“It’s hard to discuss impacts yet but we know they are going to be significant on our small businesses,” he said.

Local chambers of commerce and the Jeffco EDC are also collecting information about local, state and federal resources and working to connect businesses to information about how they can access them.

But Nola Krajewski, the newly appointed Executive Director of the Golden Chamber of Commerce said her chamber feels it has another role in the crisis that is just as important as connecting businesses to those resources.

“At the Chamber, this is the main message that we are trying to share — hope,” she said. “We want our business community to remember how strong they are. We want them to remember that they are hard workers; that they are innovators;  that they are creative; that they are a success story; that they rise to challenges and that they will get through this.”

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