Wood: Survey reveals tragedy, determination

Responses came quickly to a BizWest survey seeking to learn how local businesses were responding to the coronavirus outbreak. The survey — launched March 18 and still ongoing — brought forth the full gamut of responses and emotions that one would imagine.

Some respondents indicated that they thus far had seen little impact in terms of layoffs, while others reported widespread layoffs and reductions in business approaching or reaching 100 percent.

Many companies — like BizWest — have shifted to work-at-home solutions for their employees, but that’s not a possibility for restaurants, hotels, retailers and thousands of other businesses that have been forced to shut down or scale back their operations amid quarantines and “shelter-in-place” orders from state, county or local governments.

Reading through the responses has been heartbreaking.

“We are very, very concerned,” said the executive director of a local nonprofit that has seen an 80 percent drop in billable sessions.

A local cooking school has furloughed 13 employees, and the owner is worried not only about paying commercial rent and other expenses related to its commercial space, but also about personal expenses, which “can be managed, with difficulty.” The company has had zero business since March 14.

A Greeley-based event company is in a dire situation: “We’ve lost 90 percent of our clients,” the owner said. “We specialize in the event industry. We probably won’t be able to stay open.”

A Greeley restaurant: “We have closed and are unable to pay our responsibilities,” an official said, noting that 20 employees have already been laid off.

A Boulder restaurant owner, noting that the business has been affected “in every way,” said, “We decided to close the doors completely for the next 30 days. The staff is filing for unemployment. We laid off 100 percent of our team, 45 employees. Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

A Fort Collins dental office has laid off all 11 employees, with plans to reopen in early April questionable as shutdowns are likely to continue.

The Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado have seen their share of downturns in recent decades, from the dot-com bust to 9-11 to the Great Recession. But I’ve never seen anything like the rapid economic decline of the past several weeks.

Prior recessions have been felt through the economy, but nothing as deep as this, with entire industries — including the retail and services sectors — forced to shut down entirely or scale back dramatically.

Measures at the federal level should provide some relief for struggling industries and small businesses, but it remains to be seen whether those actions will be enough to help the tens of thousands of individuals in Colorado alone who have already been furloughed or laid off, not to mention the millions nationwide.

Small-business owners in particular will find their mettle tested in a myriad of ways. Can a restaurant survive on takeout and delivery alone? Will a salon, barbershop, dental office or travel agency be able to weather weeks or perhaps months without income?

And while responses to our survey have been heartbreaking, they’re also heartwarming, with many respondents voicing determination to get past this and emerge stronger on the other side of quarantines and shelter-in-place orders.

As one respondent noted, “It will be quite a ride.”

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-630-1942, 970-232-3133 or cwood@bizwest.com.