After over a year of restrictions and closings, small businesses in the Denver metropolitan area are eager to welcome customers again. Both restaurants and shops have felt the effects of COVID-19, and their owners have learned to adapt to the ever-changing conditions of the pandemic.

Devour the 303

Devour the 303 is an American style restaurant on the corner of Evans and Downing. Next to it sits his dessert café, The sweet spotserving cakes, ice cream and cocktails.

The sweet spot | Photo by Ambriel Speagle (DU Clarion)

“We hope that consumer confidence will return and regulations will ease a bit so we can recover,” said Sam Armatas, the owner of the restaurant.

Devour had to shut down completely last year when COVID-19 hit Colorado. Armatas explained how difficult it can be for restaurants with a large footprint to focus effectively on working take-away only.

The restaurant reopened in June 2020, but closed again in winter following the zero capacity policy. Recently, Devour was officially reopened.

“I wasn’t sure if I would open again or not. Then we got the second round of PPP, the weather got a little nicer and we got a lot of requests to come back from the neighborhood, so we decided to try again, ”said Armatas.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) gives small business loans to help keep their employees on payroll. Community support, however, seemed to be an equally big factor in keeping Devour afloat.

“The community was great. You’re the only reason we’re open. They supported us so much before we closed and they came out and welcomed us back with open arms, ”said Armatas.

But even with that support, Devour struggles with limitations based on social distancing protocols. Despite the lifting of the capacity rules, the restaurant kept occupancy at 60% in order to maintain the spacing between groups.

“Before COVID-19, you could go to a restaurant and it was packed and wall to wall with people. I don’t think we’ll see that for long. It will take a while for restaurants to recover at this rate, ”said Armatas.

Just being able to let customers walk through their doors again seems like a sense of relief for Armatas and his company.

“It was uplifting to be with people with whom you have re-established relationships over the past two years,” said Armatas.

Lady Justice Brewing

Lady Justice Brewing, a women-owned brewery in the Aurora Cultural Arts District, looks forward to reconnecting with its customers. Owners Betsy Lay, Kate Power and Jen Cuesta founded the brewery in 2014. They donate 100% of brewery membership profits to non-profit organizations that support women and girls.

Lady Justice Brewing signed the lease just three days before the March lockdown at her stationary location.

“We only existed in the pandemic. It’s hard to know how much money is going to come in the door each week. We don’t know what’s normal and that can be very frustrating, ”said Lay.

Similar to Devour the 303, Lady Justice Brewing has encountered social distancing complications. With a capacity of 100% there is space for 45 customers. However, due to the two meters distance, they can still only accommodate 25 customers.

“I’m looking forward to being in a room with our regular customers again. I just feel like a community again and meet people who we have known for a long time and who have supported us over the past year,” said Lay.

However, the locally owned breweries saw some positive changes. Lay discussed how the laws on packaging and to-go models for beer were being relaxed.

“I think people want beer that is more accessible for them to grab on their way home from work when they don’t have time to sit down,” said Lay.

General store 45

General store 45 is in the heart of historic downtown Littleton, between a barber shop and butcher on a high street in America. The shop offers customers a wide variety of choices and sells everything from vintage concert posters and old-fashioned candy to t-shirts and coffee.

Nicole Haas has been the owner of the business since 2018, and she noticed the difficulty in protecting their employees and customers.

“The biggest challenge was getting customers to wear their masks before the nationwide mask mandate went into effect. People hesitated and as a small business owner you usually don’t want to give people a reason not to come in, ”said Haas.

Since the pandemic started, certain aspects of running a small business that were already difficult have been exaggerated.

“The shipping delays were up to 10 weeks. Sick employees no longer have to miss a day, but have to test COVID-19 over a longer period of time and place it in quarantine, ”explained Haas.

looking ahead

Despite the rollout of vaccines and temperature rises, Denver businesses are plagued by uncertainty and fear as they fearfully prepare for the future.

“We don’t know if different strains of the virus will be infected and have to cause people to go back inside,” said Lay.

Ultimately, their hopes are in their customers. The personal relationships these business owners form with their customers keep them afloat and optimistic

“We’re not a McDonald’s,” said Armatas. “We don’t just give food through a window. You get to know your regular guests. They become part of their families and know what their children are doing. A big part of the hospitality industry is customer interaction. “

Denver’s restaurants and shops look forward to a summer of relaxation. General Store 45 will be attending Main Street summer events in downtown Littleton and looks forward to the return of traditions like Western Welcome Week. Devour hopes to provide ice cream to local families on those hot Denver summer days by opening The Sweet Spot every afternoon. And Lady Justice hopes to continue giving back for her community with the help of returning and new customers.