More than half of Durango and La Plata County businesses responding to a survey about the COVID-19 pandemic say they have lost 70% of their business or closed their doors.
Two hundred and ninety-six of 800 members of the Durango Chamber of Commerce responded to the survey conducted March 23-25. It was the second-highest response rate to a chamber survey, only a 2014 survey about retail marijuana drew more responses.
The hardest hit business sectors are recreation and sports, with 75% of the businesses reporting they have shut their doors.
In addition, 50% of restaurants report losing 70% to 90% of their business, retail shops reporting losses of 60%, and two-thirds of personal service businesses like salons have closed.
Three of five businesses had not laid off employees, but that increasingly seems like an untenable position as business restrictions extend.
“Results suggest a reluctance to lay off employees. Even among firms that have closed their doors, almost three in five have not laid off any employees,” said Roger Zalneraitis, economic development manager for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, in a summary of the survey’s results.
Chamber Executive Director Jack Llewellyn expected more layoffs as COVID-19 business restrictions extend through the month.
“Yes, as business drops, more will be laid off,” he said. “After we closed the survey, Peak Food & Beverage (Steamworks, El Moro and Birds) closed as did the DoubleTree. I suspect more have as well.”
The chamber will survey members again next week.
Fifty-three percent of respondents said they support an expansion of business-interruption insurance, which typically is exempt from paying out for losses suffered in a pandemic.
Dave Woodruff, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association, Durango chapter, said follow-up federal legislation should examine providing funds to insurance companies to allow them to make payouts on business-interruption policies to restaurants.
“It’s easier to bail out a few dozen insurance companies than millions of restaurants across the country,” he said.
Llewellyn said the Durango Chamber of Commerce is part of a national effort to lobby the congressional delegation and federal officials to change the language in business-interruption insurance policies to allow for payouts for COVID-19 losses.
With 55% of respondents reporting a loss of 70% or more of their business, Llewellyn said it’s virtually assured that a growing number of businesses will be forced to close their doors.
“Hopefully, the stimulus bill funds, working through local banks, will be available soon for local businesses. Loans can possibly be forgiven if funds are used to keep employees paid,” Llewellyn said.
Businesses overwhelmingly favored receiving grants to pay employees and operating costs, with 176 respondents favoring grants compared with 77 respondents who favored low-interest loans.
The preference of grants over loans, Llewellyn said, is likely a combination of factors, from small businesses operating with slim reserves and the massive impact COVID-19 has had on killing sales.
“We are also heading into the shoulder season,” Llewellyn said. “Hopefully, we will weather the storm and businesses can open in time for the tourism season.”
Among the comments from businesses summarized by Zalneraitis:
Many business are saying loans won’t help with no revenue and debt already on the books.Self-employed individuals are worried payroll assistance in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act won’t apply to them.Small-business owners are reporting that the SBA website is jammed and responses are slow – if it is possible to get on the website at all.Many small businesses are looking for plans from federal, state and local governments about how to handle business reopenings.One business owner noted businesses that are deemed essential should get access to masks and gloves for employees.Some small businesses are reporting they have been cut off from supplies from large corporations, and this may force them to email@example.com