COLORADO SPRINGS — The pandemic has been hard on small businesses struggling to survive, but in Downtown Colorado Springs, the number of businesses opening this year outpaced those that closed.
According to the Downtown Partnership, they have welcomed 21 new street level businesses this year, and expect another nine to open in the first half of 2021. "A record number of new businesses opened downtown at the street level in 2019, and we've exceeded that number in 2020," said the Economic Development Strategist with the Downtown Partnership, Alex Armani-Munn.
Armani-Munn did say there have been 16 street level businesses that have closed this year. However, he pointed out some of those are temporary closures. "There's still a significant threat to our businesses with the restrictions that are in place right now. So, even though these trends have been really positive and we're excited with the resiliency and the retention we've had downtown, we know that we're not in the clear yet," said Armani-Munn.
Some of the new businesses that have opened include a comedy club, grocery store, coffee shops, art galleries, retail stores, restaurants, bars, and a gay piano bar called ICONS. "The other business owners, new or old in the downtown area, have been so supportive," said Josh Franklin, one of the co-owners of ICONS.
Franklin is a Colorado native who lived in New York City for 18 years. "Every time I came back the past five to ten years, I was more and more encouraged and inspired about the inclusiveness of the city and the growth," said Franklin.
So he and fellow Co-Owner John Wolfe found a way to make Colorado permanent, after the pandemic forced them to leave New York City earlier this year. "We said, well nobody else has done this thing yet, and we want to stay here, we love Colorado Springs, why don't we do this?" said Wolfe.
ICONS has only been open for around a month, but already had to adapt to new COVID-19 regulations. They had to move their singing outside to a patio, where a limited number of people can sit and listen. "We play piano, we sing, every night the bartenders sing live, and we still do that on the patio. So it's just one person at a time, we set up a little sound system in the corner, we're as close as we can be safely. So it's really intimate, it's almost nice back there, like you're in a friend's living room," said Wolfe.
Wolfe and Franklin mentioned they do not qualify for federal or state grants, because those are based off of revenue from last year, when they were not yet in business.
Just a few feet away from ICONS is the new location of Yobel, a local fair trade boutique. The shop brings together over 60 vendors and artisans to sell their goods, and researches them all to ensure the product was made under fair conditions, with accurate pay, and in many instances, is sustainable. The store also donates 10% of certain purchases to the Springs Rescue Mission.
Co-Owner Emily Ross explained Yobel has been around for a decade, but she and her husband purchased it in September 2019. At that point, they were located in Ivywild School, and had to close for four months starting in March because they complied with restaurant or bar restrictions at the time. So, they decided to relocate, moving downtown and reopening in July. "It wasn't in the plan at that time, but [necessary] in order to stay open at all. Online sales were very low, especially after retail was able to reopen, but we weren't since we were in that shared space," said Ross, detailing why they needed to leave Ivywild School, despite liking the community there.
Even though Ross said the downtown location is their ultimate dream, it's still quite different than it was before the pandemic. "Sales are not the same. I do think people are shopping differently than they have been in the past... Definitely depend on foot traffic, so the restaurants not being open as often as they have been able to in the past is a little bit more challenging right now," said Ross.
Those with the Downtown Partnership said the expansion of the area will help support businesses once the pandemic ends. Armani-Munn said Colorado Springs is one of the best commercial markets for property investments, and people are constantly moving to the city. "We have over 460 hotel rooms under construction today. We had the Olympic Museum open this year. We have Robson Arena opening in 2021, as well as the downtown stadium. So, all the development and all the growth that will really spur sales at restaurants and retail in the future is all materializing now, and when we come out of this, we're going to be well-positioned to do more commercial activity than I think we've done in decades," said Armani-Munn.
While Armani-Munn said some of the most difficult days are ahead of us, he can also see a light at the end of the tunnel. "Truth is, as difficult as these times are, our future downtown is really bright, our future citywide is really bright," he said.
The Downtown Partnership provided us with these figures from past years as well:
- 21 new businesses in 2020
- 17 new businesses in 2019
- 24 new businesses in 2018
- 19 new businesses in 2017
- 18 new businesses in 2016
News5 also reached out to the chambers of commerce for Pueblo, Manitou Springs, and the Tri-Lakes area.
A representative from the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce said she is not aware of any businesses in Monument closing as a result of the pandemic. She did say they now have three new businesses, one of which has already opened, while the other two are still working to that point.
Meanwhile, in Manitou Springs, four businesses have opened, four have closed, and one expanded.
Those with Pueblo did not have the hard numbers at their disposal on Tuesday, but said they are monitoring the situation and trying to help as much as possible. While many businesses are in limbo, they did say there have likely been more that closed than opened this year.
ICONS requires patio reservations right now because of COVID-19 restrictions. CLICK HERE to learn more.
CLICK HERE to explore what the fair trade boutique Yobel has to offer.