Relief petition to keep Vail Valley businesses open gains momentum
Update: The towns of Minturn and Eagle, along with the Beaver Creek Resort Company and Beaver Creek Merchants Association have joined the variance petition effort.
A plea to keep local businesses open has gathered a lot of momentum in a short time.
The town councils of Avon and Vail, along with the Vail Chamber & Business Association and the Vail Valley Partnership, the valley-wide chamber of commerce, recently launched an online petition to include Eagle County in a statewide program modeled on Mesa County’s Five Star Variance Protection Program.
The Eagle County petition was launched about midday on Satuday, Nov. 28. With little more than social media and word of mouth publicity, the petition had more than 1,800 signatures by midday Monday.
The Mesa County program began over the summer. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Monday unveiled a draft proposal for a similar program.
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Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer said the state would set up the framework for the program. A local administrative committee made up of both business and public health representatives would get approval from the state, then run the program.
Businesses that are accepted into the program would receive a variance from restrictions based on a county’s position on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Put simply, if a county is at “orange,” or high risk status, program participants would have to meet the restrictions of the dashboard’s “yellow” status. That means more occupancy in stores and restaurants.
More than a rubber stamp
Certification in the program is done on a business-by-business basis, and qualification is more than just filling out a form.
Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce Director Diane Schwenke said businesses have to certify their compliance with the program requirements, including distancing and mask-wearing.
Participating businesses are regularly visited to check how businesses are upholding their end of the program’s requirements. Businesses that aren’t complying can have their certification revoked, and those revocations are published online and in Grand Junction’s newspaper.
That doesn’t happen very often, Schwenke said.
“The majority of businesses are pretty committed to getting and keeping their certification,” Schwenke said.
Mesa County has hired eight inspectors for the program. Vail Town Councilmember Jenn Bruno said those people are being paid through the federal CARES Act, but added that the county will continue to fund those positions.
The program has been good for businesses, employees and customers, Schwenke said. Customers are assured a business is a safe environment, she said, and businesses, particularly small businesses, can stay open. Schwenke added that a number of businesses in the “essential” category are also participating in the program.
“They’re doing it to show they value their employees,” Schwenke said.
Romer called the Mesa County program a “thoughtful, pragmatic” way to help avoid some of the unintended consequences of tightening COVID-19 restrictions.
Romer said that by moving to tighter restrictions, he and others worry that people will meet more in private settings. Private gatherings are suspected of creating more risk of spreading the virus.
In addition, people staying at work can provide for both economic and mental health needs.
What it’s about
Those needs are reflected in many of the comments on the petition’s web page. For instance:
- “I am a home owner in Vail and want to see all my local friends keep their jobs and have a safe place to visit and support.”
- “Implementing a 5-Star Variance Protection Program here in Eagle County is a practical, smart and safe way to help local businesses, and our community, get through this. Please support this initiative!”
- “Creating and maintaining a safe environment for guests is important to to the financial livelihood of our destination. This formalized program will reward business that cooperate.”
- “I was born and raised in the Vail Valley and my parents have owned their restaurant since 1997. They have fought through thick and thin to keep it going, and running it successfully to this day. Now, despite following the guidelines put in place by Colorado, we could see more restrictions that could result in irreparable damage to the livelihoods of, not just our employees, but a multitude of employees who depend on the food and beverage industry to put food on their own tables and pay their bills.”
- “This is important to me because residents in this area are really hurting and it would make it impossible to survive without the assistance of government money. And even if you’re able to get through the horrible logistics of securing such funding it will be too late and not reach those who are the most in need.”
Bruno is the co-owner of the Luca Bruno clothing stores in Vail. Bruno said she’s been impressed by both the rapid response to the petition and the thoughtfulness of the comments.
“It says a lot about our community,” Bruno said. “I think people are really getting behind the petition — it’s giving them a voice. I feel like we’ve been afraid to express ourselves because we’re worried about our health and safety, and our livelihoods.”
Bruno was also quick to credit the Avon Town Council’s unanimous support for the petition.
“It was great to work with them,” Bruno said.
Bruno called the quick reaction to the petition a good kind of “community spread,” adding, “It’s incredible to see people working together for a healthy and safe community.”
To sign and comment on the petition to “Keep Eagle County businesses in business,” go to thepetitionsite.com.