Vail Valley businesses on edge, with some optimism
'Uncharted territory' of the COVID-19 outbreak has people unsure of how to move forward
Larry Leith has a great idea.
Leith, the owner of the Yeti’s Grind coffee shops in Vail and Eagle, is a self-described “hugger.” When the social distancing related to the current COVID-19 outbreak has passed, Leith plans to hold some sort of “hug-fest” at the coffee shops.
For now, though, the Yeti’s Grind stores are closed, like many other businesses. And at this point, there isn’t much fun to be had.
Mike Brumbaugh has shut down the six Venture Sports stores in the valley for at least a week.
“We could be open now in Avon for (bike rentals),” Brumbaugh said. But given the directives to avoid the spread of the virus, he said, closing for a few days seems wise.
“We’ve never been through (this) before,” Brumbaugh said. “There’s work to be done, but we don’t want people in the shops.”
Still, he said, the Avon store will be open “within a week.”
The Comfort Inn in Avon is staying open. But Rich ten Braak, the general manager, said the lodge is already starting to get down to post-ski season staffing.
“We were looking at a good month, and it’s tanking before our eyes,” ten Braak said.
For now, he said, all there is to do is “plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
A lot of people feel the same way.
“At this point, there’s so much uncertainty. We’re in completely uncharted territory,” Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer said.
But businesses are already starting to adapt, from doing more with remote work to restaurants offering to-go and delivered meals.
Bentley Biggar started Front Desk MTN in time for the 2019-20 ski season. The online company provides concierge services for people using vacation rentals. The business model is to provide services free to users and make commissions off of participating businesses.
The business was on track to show its first profit in March. Then the COVID-19 outbreak hit.
“There’s not a cent of revenue for the foreseeable future,” Biggar said.
To help other small businesses, Biggar in 24 hours thought up the idea for supportcolocal.com. That website will allow people to purchase gift cards from small businesses. Buyers can provide some much-needed immediate revenue to businesses and use those gift cards when the outbreak has passed.
“It’s a way for an everyday person to help these businesses stay afloat,” Biggar said. The website launched at noon Monday and already had signed up two businesses, one in Denver and one in Winter Park.
What about employees?
While the Yeti’s Grind stores are closed, Leith said he plans to take care of his employees in some way.
“They’re our No. 1 concern,” Leith said. But it’s hard to tell just how, or how long, employees will need help.
“The hardest part for us is whether this is one week or eight,” Leith said.
A lot of seasonal workers have already begun the annual exodus from the valley, particularly those who came from other countries.
Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey said she’s been told that a number of those seasonal workers started leaving the valley last week.
The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail is shutting down until May 31. Jonathan Reap, the hotel’s director of public relations and communications, wrote in an email that they “have been working very closely with the sponsors in order to ensure that seasonal staff from overseas are able to get home.”
While much of the valley has cut back, altered operations or shut down, there are still some people at the resorts.
“People don’t have a lot of things to do, and they’re not happy about it,” Wadey said. “People are not happy their vacation has been canceled.”
People are getting by, though.
Wadey said she went for a Sunday excursion to skin up Arrowhead and saw dozens of people, many of whom are local residents.
Brumbaugh said he was out Sunday in Eagle, and “I’ve never seen so many people” out and about, cycling, running and playing with their dogs.
“People were out enjoying the weather,” he said.
We’re all going to have to do more of that as the days — and perhaps weeks — roll by.
Magda King, Antlers Lodge general manager, lives in Eagle. King said she’s optimistic about the way the valley will respond to the virus outbreak.
“The community has really stepped up,” King said, adding, “this too shall pass.” And she said she wants to know when the hug-fest comes to Yeti’s. She’ll be there.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2930.