A year into COVID, cautious optimism among Littleton businesses

Pace of business loss slowed from 2019, data shows; tax revenues not as bad as predicted

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/24/21

The pace of new business creation in Littleton slowed since the COVID-19 pandemic began to reshape life last March, but so did the pace of business loss. The City of Littleton issued 126 business …

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A year into COVID, cautious optimism among Littleton businesses

Pace of business loss slowed from 2019, data shows; tax revenues not as bad as predicted

Posted

The pace of new business creation in Littleton slowed since the COVID-19 pandemic began to reshape life last March, but so did the pace of business loss.

The City of Littleton issued 126 business licenses between the beginning of March 2020 and the same time this year, according to city data. That total was down from 162 in the same period the year prior, a decrease of 22.2%.

But city officials say they’re only aware of 51 businesses closing or leaving Littleton from March to March during the pandemic, down from 90 in the same period the year before.

The number of businesses closed or moved is likely incomplete, said city finance director Tiffany Hooten, because the city has no single mechanism to track the data. Instead, city staff cobble together the number from different sources, including tax remittances that stop coming in.

Littleton’s sales tax revenue finished 2020 down 3.27% from the year before, though Hooten said the figure was far better than the decline of 10% to 12% she had predicted last May. November and December sales tax revenues were actually up over the year before.

“It’s still too early to tell” how business will fare in 2021, Hooten said. “Many businesses have ambitions to open at full capacity, but we’re not sure when that will be allowed yet. Even once that happens, we’ll have to see how people’s shopping and dining habits have changed. Takeout food could remain more prevalent. There are still a lot of unknowns.”

Sales and use tax revenues were a mixed bag in the busy December shopping season, city data shows, with the area the city calls North Broadway showing a 10% increase over the year before, but Main Street down a staggering 41.7%.

Main Street saw some notable closures in 2020, including Details Boutique, Austin Hauck Men’s Clothing, Hot Pots, Outlaw Yoga and JF Sholl Fine Jewelry.

How many closures are specifically due to COVID restrictions is tough to say. Sholl announced his retirement just weeks before COVID restrictions took effect, for instance, and Details Boutique owner Peggy Cooper told the Independent last summer that she had planned to close up shop in 2020 anyway — though COVID sped things up.

City officials were unable to provide Littleton-specific unemployment data, though the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged the Denver metro area’s unemployment rate at 7% in January, up from 2.7% the year before.

Littleton Business Chamber co-chair Pat Dunahay said in spite of the difficulty, he’s optimistic for the future.

“The overall attitude in the business community is that things are getting better,” Dunahay said by phone as he stood on Main Street on a Friday afternoon. “Things are headed in the right direction, and I don’t see Littleton slowing down.”

Dunahay, who also heads the South Park Owners Association in southeast Littleton, said that business district is doing well, citing a new body shop, and healthy sales at Dunahay’s business, PDA Road Gear.

Food service has faced particular challenges.

Sales are down by half at Dirt Coffee, a nonprofit coffee shop that offers training programs for neurodivergent people.

Grants through the city and county have gone a long way, said Dirt founder Lauren Burgess.

“They don’t cover all our losses, but they’re super helpful,” Burgess said. “Luckily we’ve had minimal impact on our employment programs. The big difficulty is our inability to hold fundraisers and larger events that make our programs possible. We’re hoping to bring that back to a degree later this year.”

Other restaurants are hanging on, though times are still tough. McKinners Pizza Bar owner Keven Kinaschuk said he doesn’t expect to be on good footing until seating restrictions and the face mask mandate are lifted.

Like Dirt, McKinners is down by about half its normal sales over the past year, Kinaschuk said. Staff is down from 25 before the pandemic to just 11 now. He plans to eliminate lunch hours in coming weeks, saying there just isn’t enough lunch crowd to justify the payroll cost.

Still, he’s keeping his chin up. His newly built-out patio, funded through grant money, is a boon. He’s hopeful about a new second McKinner’s location: a “ghost kitchen” location in Denver that will only offer takeout and delivery, scheduled to open in April.

Nice weather has brought a boost, he said.

“This week is my first decent week since last March,” Kinaschuk said on March 19. “I’m not getting rich, but it’s better than it has been.”

Ironically, Kinaschuk said one barrier to scaling the business back up quickly could be a labor shortage, as the number of job applicants has plummeted in recent months.

“I think the expanded unemployment program is the right thing to do, but it sure doesn’t give someone an incentive to work in a hot, fast-paced kitchen wearing a mask all night,” he said. “We all wear ours, of course, but it’s not fun.”

Kinaschuk said he’s in it for the long haul.

“I’ve come this far,” he said. “My staff and I have come through so much. If I gave up now, I’d be out of my mind.”

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