On Littleton's Main Street, merchants in 'uncharted territory'

Business owners in downtown Littleton face uncertain futures amid coronavirus shutdown

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/18/20

Downtown Littleton merchants are reeling after escalating measures against the COVID-19 outbreak left Main Street all but deserted. Numerous downtown restaurants were experimenting with their first …

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On Littleton's Main Street, merchants in 'uncharted territory'

Business owners in downtown Littleton face uncertain futures amid coronavirus shutdown

Posted

Downtown Littleton merchants are reeling after escalating measures against the COVID-19 outbreak left Main Street all but deserted.

Numerous downtown restaurants were experimenting with their first day of carryout service on March 17, a day after the state ordered all restaurants to stop dine-in service until May 11.

Nearly every business had a sign on the door asking sick people to stay away, and detailing the business' cleaning procedures. Some retail stores were closed, and those that stayed open saw little foot traffic amid public health orders to minimize unnecessary travel.

“Business is hell right now,” said Greg Reinke, president of the Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants Association, and the owner of the Reinke Bros costume and novelty shop. “I made $183 in the last seven days. Most of the merchants are scared to death. Their dreams and their hard work could be wiped away overnight.”

At businesses along Main Street, anxiety was in the air, but so were calls for unity.

“We're just all trying to figure out what to do,” said Holly Wheeler, a server at Smokin Fins, a seafood restaurant. “Lots of us will probably be laid off for now. Some of us are thinking of trying to go to work for Amazon and Costco. I just hope when this is all over, people can come together.”

At Bradford Auto Body, owner Mickey Kempf said business has plunged.

“It's slower than the dickens,” said Kempf, a community fixture noted for his charity work who served as the grand marshal in the 2019 Western Welcome Week parade.

Kempf said he's hoping to stay open, though he already had to furlough one full-time employee.

“We've had so much anger and division in this country,” Kempf said. “Let's move past being Democrats and Republicans and remember we're all human beings.”

At EVOO Marketplace, which sells gourmet oils and vinegars, owner Mike Major said the future was uncertain.

“We can sustain ourselves for maybe a month, but after that it's dicey,” Major said. “But as long as Fed-Ex keeps going, we'll gladly ship to our customers.”

Major said he used to work in biotechnology, and said the shutdowns “are what we have to do as a society. I just hope we can have more appreciation for each other after this.”

At Curds Cheese, a gourmet cheese shop, owner Garret Palecek said he was giving to-go orders a try.

“We're all in this together,” Palecek said. “Our plan is to smile, be kind, do our best, and hope it works out.”

A sandwich board outside General Store 45 advertised “Quarantine supplies.” Clerk Kyle Steele said board games, jigsaw puzzles and novelties made for good ways to pass the time under quarantine.

Steele, who said he's been living with a friend while between apartments, was planning to leave the next day for his home state of West Virginia.

“My grandparents have a house on five acres in the woods,” Steele said. “That sounds like a better place to ride this out than my buddy's couch.”

It's too soon to say what the fallout of the coronavirus crisis will be, said Reinke, the head of the merchants association, but he hopes business owners can unite to help each other out.

“We'll all owe money, and we won't have income,” Reinke said. “What if we came together and pretend like nothing's happening for two months? My tenants don't pay me, maybe I don't pay the mortgage. If the banks can get on board, we can save a lot of businesses.”

Reinke said local businesses may also become eligible for Small Business Adminstration loans, but there are a lot of moving parts to figure out first.

In the meantime, Reinke said his insurance company won't enact his policy's business interruption clause, because he hasn't been given an order to close.

Kal Murib, who owns numerous buildings along Main Street with a variety of tenants including McKinner's Pizza, Jackass Hill Brewery and Grande Station Bistro, said he's waiting for the end of the month to gather more information before deciding whether to suspend rent.

“I think of my tenants as my friends too, and if help is needed, I'm available, I'm ready, but we need mortgage companies and banks to work with us,” Murib said. “Nobody knows where this is going. We're in uncharted territory.”

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