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Robb Horen, owner of Dog Savvy on Larimer Street, inside his empty store on April 3. Photo by Cassidy Ritter

How Local Retailers Are Responding to COVID-19

Retailers are taking a hit under Colorado's stay-at-home order, cutting staff and asking for rent relief.

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On an early April afternoon, Denver’s iconic Larimer Square is reminiscent of a small town with an even smaller population. As the state’s stay-at-home order has forced residents to stay inside and shuttered nonessential businesses, most storefronts on this normally bustling street are closed, and people are few and far between. Some businesses, however, including restaurants and pet supply store Dog Savvy, are open for limited hours.

Robb Horen, co-owner of Dog Savvy, says he’s the only retailer open on the block. “I thrive on walk-by traffic and people aren’t out walking around and I’m not making normal sales,” he says. “It’s been really difficult to maintain income given circumstances.”

Dog Savvy is considered an essential business, which means Horen can remain open. However, he can’t offer grooming services under Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order. Horen says his revenue has been cut by 95 to 98 percent.

January to March is typically a slow time for retailers, and Horen says it’s historically his slowest quarter of the year, noting coronavirus “couldn’t have hit at a worse time.”

Courtesy of Sportique Scooters

That’s a sentiment most retailers share across the Mile High City. Sportique Scooters located on South Broadway is also partially open, only offering maintenance and repairs on motorscooters. Principal Colin Shattuck says his business, which celebrated 22 years April 1, is only 20 percent open.

“Losing April is devastating because in the scooter business, we amass debt through the wintertime. And in order not to retrain technicians in particular, we retain them. And so we bleed money,” Shattuck says. Sportique Scooters relies on sales from March to May to pay off winter debt and relies on summer months to generate revenue. Shattuck says a typical April brings in at least $160,000 in revenue through repairs and scooter sales. This month he estimates making a dismal $25,000 in revenue.

Unlike Horen and Shattuck, many retailers are forced to close with some opting to convert their brick-and-mortar locations to online retailers. Hope Tank, a gift shop that supports nonprofits, closed its doors on Broadway March 16 and shortly after boarded up storefront windows hoping to prevent vandalism and break-ins.

Owner Erika Righter says that in order to stay in business, she laid off all employees and launched an online platform for the shop, in addition to curbside pickup and delivery. (Righter also launched a GoFundMe to help other businesses board up their storefronts and pay for artists to showcase their work on the boards.)

When asked about reopening her storefront, Righter says, “We will reopen. I think that it will be a very different version of Hope Tank.” Prior to closing, Righter was working to get funding for a social enterprise center. If funding is granted, Righter says she will pivot and be able to do small-scale custom manufacturing.

Another retail owner with store locations in RiNo, Stanley Marketplace, Highland, and Lowry also laid off staff and closed up shop in mid-March. “Basically my income vanished overnight,” says Shana Colbin Dunn, owner of women’s boutiques Kismet, True, and Luna and Jasper. “And to be honest, it’s kind of paralyzing.”

Courtesy of True Boutique

Dunn now spends her days on the phone—mainly on hold she says—searching for ways to cut costs. She’s also converting her businesses to an online model and offering limited porch deliveries.

In terms of rent, three of Dunn’s four landlords have offered relief, including two deferring April’s rent and another saying not to worry about payment this month. All in all, Dunn is trying to see the positives. She opened her first retail store in 2006 and remained in business through the 2008–09 recession. “And you know, we got through that, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if we all came out ahead somehow,” Dunn says.

When asked if Dunn will consolidate her locations she says, “It’s a time game. I have great landlords thus far. But again, they’re business people. So it just really depends on the timeframe.…It’s hard to tell. It’s so uncertain. And so I’m taking every day the best I can.”

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