Old Town businesses plagued by uncertainty due to COVID-19

Lauryn Bolz

Fort Collins made a name for itself as a haven for creatives, entrepreneurs and small business owners, but the global pandemic, COVID-19, is putting Old Town’s economy at risk. 

With nationwide business closures and revenues down, the survival of the things we take for granted as being unique to Fort Collins is unsure. However, independent businesses are doing what they can in order to stay afloat amid the economic challenges that came with the virus. 

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Small businesses are delicate by definition,” said Toby Gadd, co-owner and creator of Nuance Chocolate, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker that has made Fort Collins its home. “A lot of small businesses struggle in general, so if you look at a small business which is struggling somewhat in good times and then take away 10%-20% of their revenue, that could be enough to take them out of business. If you take 50%-60% of their revenue away, it would be really hard to survive that.”

I hope people still support everybody, but at the same time, I totally understand people needing to stay home and take care of themselves.”  -Megan Barghols, creator & owner of Fort Collins Donut Company

Gadd looked to the effects of COVID-19 in Seattle to model his predictions on what could happen to Fort Collins businesses. Seattle, with another small business heavy, tourist reliant economy, was one of the first United States cities to feel the economic effects of the pandemic.

Seattle is being hit really hard economically,” Gadd said. “An article I saw said that there was a 50%-60% reduction in sales in Pike Place Market. My concern is that in Old Town, if you take half of the revenue away, we could lose a quarter of the businesses permanently. I think that’s pretty real.”

In a way, small businesses are trapped in a Catch-22. They are forced to find a way to both keep their revenue flowing and also do all they can to flatten the curve of the virus.  

“I think that, especially in Old Town, we try to work together as much as possible,” said Megan Barghols, owner and creator of Fort Collins Donut Company. FoCo DoCo is located in The Exchange, an open-air marketplace that recently prohibited gatherings as per new regulations. “I hope people still support everybody, but at the same time, I totally understand people needing to stay home and take care of themselves. 

The rapidly changing situation and evolving government regulations imposed on food services require small companies to adapt their business models quickly. 

On March 16, Gov. Jared Polis ordered food service businesses to close their indoor seating along with the closures of gyms, casinos, theaters and other facilities in order to promote social distancing and stop the spread of the virus. For many small businesses trying to mitigate their losses, this means implementing carry out and curbside pickup and encouraging customers to order goods online. 

On March 25, Gov. Polis announced a state-wide stay at home order. Picking up take-out food from restaurants is exempt from the new mandate.

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Small businesses have adapted well to these regulations, and community members have been eager to support the companies and the service workers that strive to keep Fort Collins the unique, independent town that they love. According to The Coloradoan, a Fort Collins resident named Jake Ward posted a comprehensive spreadsheet on how to buy from local restaurants, cafes and bars. 

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On social media, businesses have stressed the importance of ordering online, getting takeout and buying gift cards. However, depending on the duration of the pandemic and now the stay-at-home order for Larimer County, community support may not be enough.

On March 23, The Coloradoan reported that Fort Collins will soon instate short-term loans to help small businesses stay afloat. According to the article, the Small Business Relief and Recovery Loan Fund hopes to “provide some additional relief to those business owners and their employees.”

Unfortunately, this loan system, which doesn’t provide a long-term solution, offers little hope for small business owners. 

Who knows what’s going to happen,” Gadd said. “The uncertainty of this and governmental leadership makes it really tricky. Will Nuance (Chocolate) close? I think the possibility of a temporary closure is very, very high.” 

Lauryn Bolz can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @BolzLauryn.