Bar Helix owner Kendra Anderson was working on yet another pivot for her Negroni bar in late October when she unexpectedly received written notice from her landlord to vacate her three-year-old RiNo space within three days.
“The three-day thing was shocking, and, as I ultimately found out, inappropriate,” Anderson says.
Curfews, closures, and reduced-capacity restrictions have taken a toll on Anderson’s business, along with most other local, independent bars and restaurants. Keeping up with rent and other bills when owners are facing drastically reduced revenue from the past eight months has been nearly impossible; knowing this, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order mandating that landlords provide tenants with 30 days’ notice before forcing them out. The purpose of the order is to protect “commercial tenants at risk for eviction who were economically harmed by COVID-19.” Landlords, of course, have bills to pay too, but the intent of orders like this is to help small businesses survive COVID, since you’d be hard-pressed to find a bar or restaurant that hasn’t been economically harmed.
Anderson, who did not pay landlord Ken Vonderach rent for Helix’s space during the spring months when the bar was closed, says she was blindsided by the three-day warning, and wants to make sure that other businesses are aware of their rights. (Vonderach declined to speak with 5280 for this story, citing potential litigation.) The notice came shortly after Anderson closed up Cabana X, the al fresco, vacation-themed cocktail bar she set up outside for the summer.
In April, Anderson says Vonderach verbally advised her that Bar Helix would not be expected to pay rent for the months when the business was closed. During an August conversation, Anderson says Vonderach asked her for repayment, at which point she started paying rent for that month and the following, while Cabana X was open. In October, she closed the summer concept to get to work on winterizing Bar Helix, and shared her plan and ideas with Vonderach. She told him that she wouldn’t be able to pay rent for October but was working on a number of financially feasible concepts for winter and would start paying rent again as soon as they launched.
“Cabana X turned out to be much more successful than I had hoped. I was feeling bullish about our ability to make payments and get caught up. That was my plan, and I communicated that numerous times,” Anderson says.
Right around the same time as she got the notice requiring her to vacate, capacity restrictions increased again, to 25 percent of posted occupancy. “My capacity restrictions, at even 50 percent, would not have allowed me to generate enough income to pay even the most basic of my monthly expenses,” she says.
In response to Vonderach’s request that she clear out Bar Helix within three days, Anderson wrote back requesting that she could stay until he found a new tenant. That way, she could try to make money in the meantime to repay him by hosting private events in the space. Anderson says that Vonderach declined and gave her 14 days. “If he had a tenant lined up, I would have gotten it. I wouldn’t stand in his way of getting rental income,” she says.
Anderson sent Vonderach the governor’s executive order mandating the 30-day opportunity to repay lapsed rent. He contacted her on November 3, via his attorney, agreeing to allow her 30 days to resolve her lease default or to close up shop.
To keep Bar Helix open, director of hospitality Christine LeMieux set up a GoFundMe campaign to help the bar repay its rent obligations, or to start another concept somewhere else, perhaps as a pop-up. As of the morning of November 10, just over $2,000 has been donated towards the bar’s $25,000 goal.
“I don’t want to dodge my financial obligations,” Anderson stresses. “That’s not what any of us get into business to do… I want to stay, and I want to make this work.”