Businesses creak to life as Colorado’s stay-at-home order lifts

CASTLE ROCK — Glimmers of normal life twinkled ever so faintly in parts of Colorado on Monday as the state became one of the first in the country to lift its stay-at-home order.

Douglas County was among the majority of Colorado’s 64 counties that shifted to Gov. Jared Polis’ less constricting “safer at home” approach, a move meant to provide a spark to businesses suffering brutal financial effects from the coronavirus-induced shutdown. Denver and some suburban counties still have local stay-at-home orders in place, while two mountain counties received waivers to loosen their restrictions beyond the statewide plan.

In the Douglas County town of Castle Rock, some shops began offering curbside pickup of goods while roads and highways, still carrying nowhere near the white-knuckle volume familiar to rush-hour metro area drivers, no longer resembled the almost empty thoroughfares of the last few weeks.

In addition to curbside pickup, surgeries and real estate showings were also allowed to resume Monday. In-person shopping can resume Friday, with social distancing restrictions.

“Our customers are ready for it — they’ve been asking when they can shop again,” said Elizabeth Villwock, manager of The Emporium in downtown Castle Rock.

The Emporium, which houses a collection of 60 or so small merchants selling clothes, antiques and furnishings, had been closed since Polis ordered nonessential businesses to go dark on March 26 as part of an effort keep people from spreading the deadly virus that has killed more than 700 in Colorado so far.

Villwock said her Perry Street business has stayed alive by delivering orders to customers, but the drop in revenues during the shutdown has been “devastating” and almost every member of her 20-employee staff has been furloughed. She said there had already been around 30 curbside pickups by mid-afternoon Monday.

A couple of miles away, the Outlets at Castle Rock was far from normal. The entrance to the shopping center was strictly controlled by security guards, and a sign for curbside pickup was posted near the entrance, informing shoppers to call or text the store for their orders. Only two stores out of more than 100 at the Outlets has been allowed to provide in-person service during the shutdown.

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“It’s a little bizarre,” said Gillian Hode, who manages Uniform Destination, which is considered an essential business because it sells medical clothing. “Every day, we’re taking it day by day.”

As dental offices and other health care providers get ready to reopen, Hode said her store has been getting more orders for scrubs and equipment in recent days. But the promenade outside her store, normally bustling with shoppers moving from store to store, was bereft of a single shopper Monday afternoon.

William Crawford, who manages the nearby Vitamin World store, said he’s getting maybe two customer walk-ins a day. He said he’s ready for shoppers to once again get the chance to patronize Colorado retail outlets starting Friday — part of a phased and strictly controlled reopening of businesses per the governor’s “safer at home” executive order.

Restaurants will remain closed to dine-in service for the time being.

“I say there is no choice but to dip our toe back in the water,” Crawford said. “The virus isn’t going anywhere, but our paychecks are.”

Douglas County did not follow the decision of Denver and most of its neighboring counties to stay with the stricter stay-at-home protocol until May 8, although most are allowing exceptions for retail curbside pickup service. Shoppers in Jefferson, Adams, Broomfield, Denver, Boulder and Arapahoe counties will have to wait a week and a half before venturing back into shops.

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said his county is comfortable with the state guidance on in-person shopping and will permit businesses in the county to reopen — with strict social distancing measures in place — at the end of the week.

“We are every day — all day — looking at the metrics,” he said. “Compared to our neighbors, we’re doing really well.”

According to the latest data from Tri-County Health Department, Douglas County has 451 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 21 deaths. That’s about a quarter of the deaths that Arapahoe County has, despite Arapahoe being twice as populous as its southern neighbor.

Laydon said the county will reassess and change course if caseloads spike, but that damage from the virus itself has to be balanced with the damage the response to the virus has already caused.

“Our businesses are on life support — they need to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

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