Dealing with a global pandemic may be scary, troublesome and painful, but through it all businesses have found ways to adapt.
Now, five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are discovering some changes made to deal with the pesky pathogen will be keepers – practices that will become common even when the novel coronavirus is in the rearview mirror.
From updated sales software, to increased cleaning and more remote work, residents and visitors can expect Durango to look different a year from now because of the struggles forced upon the world by COVID-19.
Although it’s not yet set in stone, the most obvious COVID-inspired change in Durango, the bump-outs on Main Avenue in downtown, are likely to return during warm-weather months – coronavirus or no coronavirus.
Kris Oyler, CEO of Peak Food & Beverage, the owner of Bird’s, Steamworks Brewing Co., and El Moro Spirits and Tavern, would like to see the bump-outs become a regular downtown feature.
“We hope the bump-outs come back next spring. We really think they add a nice vibrancy to downtown and it allows us to expand our seating, particularly when we have limited capacity indoors,” Oyler said. “But yeah, I like them, even in normal times. So, we’d like to see them come back.”
Assistant City Manger Kevin Hall said the bump-outs are slated to come down by Oct. 31 to accommodate snow removal, but he anticipates if weather is nice in late October there will likely be calls to keep the bump-outs up for a few more weeks.
“We are getting a lot of positive feedback. We did restrict the road a bit and chewed up a little bit of parking, but it seems to be working,” Hall said. “What we’d like to do is a kind of an after-action review, and we’ll talk with the businesses and the (Business Improvement District) about future possibilities, But I, like everyone else, anticipates next summer, we’ll have similar considerations on our hands. We’d like to do a better job with ... the aesthetics of the bump-outs.”
Carver Brewing Co. employees are calling its bump-out either “the Front Porch” or “the Beer Garden,” and it has proved a hit, said co-owner Jim Carver.
“The customers love it, and the customers will always tell you what’s a viable thing,” he said.
The Nugget Mountain Bar, a half mile south of Purgatory Resort’s entrance, may not be in downtown, but the same thinking guiding bump-outs led it to expand its patio, adding about 35 seats, or about a 50% seating capacity addition, to the outdoor patio.
Nugget owner Kevin Wright said, “It’s worked out well for us with the mountain setting, the kind of environment we can offer, people love being outside. Nobody wants to be inside in Colorado in the summer. We’re kind of limited in size inside anyway. Winter we haven’t figured out. It’s going to be tough for us.”
Take-out orders, now ubiquitous, will likely be more popular going forward, and that has restaurants making changes to software that keeps track of orders, inventory management and daily sales.
At Steamworks and the other Peak Food & Beverage restaurants, all the software has been changed to better meet the needs of the smartphone.
Oyler said, “We’ve got a whole platform to where someone can jump online on their smartphone or on their computer and they can access it, they can order, they can pay right from their phone or their computer. When the food’s ready, it automatically texts the customer. So we have a global order mobile pay. So that’s something that’s going to be a permanent change for us.”
At Carver’s, Jim Carver said the brewpub too has all new software with similar capabilities as that used at Steamworks, but the brewpub, so far, has chosen not to enable the take-out function.
Carver’s is so busy with walk-ins, Carver said he’s worried the growing popularity of take-out orders would burden the kitchen.
“We throttle up and down based on how many menus we have out, and when we have 30 menus out, we stop seating people. That’s how we keep our kitchen from getting swamped. You can imagine a busy Friday night, if we get 30 to-go orders how that could impact our kitchen,” he said. “We do takeout, but we discourage it.”
Behind the scenes, like most restaurants, Carver’s has made upgrades, putting in hand-washing sinks in the back patio, refurbishing a walk-in that had not been turned off for 38 years with new stainless steel sheeting and diamond-plate floors.
Carver said catching up on maintenance needs is a little-appreciated silver lining in the COVID-19 storm.
Restaurants aren’t the only businesses discovering some adaptations to the novel coronavirus that may be around for a while.
John Flick, co-owner of Duranglers, said it dropped providing boxed lunches on its guided tours, and discovered customers weren’t bothered having to pack their own sack lunches.
“From a guide’s standpoint, it’s icing on the cake. It’s one less expense, and they don’t have to worry if someone has special dietary needs, if a lunch has to be gluten-free or vegan,” he said.
Other changes likely to stick around are meeting clients at the site of a tour and not driving for miles in one vehicle.
A similar change is taking place in the real-estate industry, said John Wells, owner of the Wells Group.
“This isn’t just going to go away and we’re gonna forget about it,” he said. “I think consumers are saying, ‘You know, maybe I shouldn’t spend two, three, four hours in an automobile with a stranger,’ and we’re going to have to react to the consumer.”
Another change that will be widespread, Wells said, is working remotely.
The practice has fans and critics among Wells Group brokers, but for those comfortable with working from home, the practice will become increasingly common.
Laura Lewis Marchino, executive director of Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, agrees working from home will become more prevalent.
Region 9 employees went completely remote until June. The office moved to meeting via video to allow for face-to-face contact, which employees quickly realized was missing with remote work.
“It went better than we expected, and employees loved having additional flexibility,” she said. “As we transitioned back, we realized we could do a mix of in-office and remote work without impacting customer service. All employees have at least one remote day depending on their duties.
“I think having an in-office and remote-work balance is the best of both worlds.”