Businesses in northern El Paso County feeling the heat from Black Forest fire

June 14, 2013 Updated: June 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm

While business owners in northern El Paso County likely celebrated Friday's rain and end of some evacuations, the fire still remains a threat to the area and some businesses' profits.

Because of mandatory and voluntary evacuations that went into effect Tuesday, businesses on the fire's western fringe saw a drop in their regular customer base as residents fled the area.

The decline in customers has been so drastic for some businesses that at least one in the shopping center at Jackson Creek Parkway and Leather Chaps Drive has closed early the past three nights. Steve Fillo, owner of It's A Grind Coffee House, usually shuts his shop at 9 p.m. Since Tuesday, he has closed each day at 5 p.m.

Fillo said the customers that once made up his nighttime business either left town, or stayed home and packed boxes in case they had to evacuate. He said his overall business is down about 25 percent.

"The regular pulse and beat of everyday life has been interrupted by evacuations," he said.

Businesses in the area also have had trouble finding people to work. Michael Gillum usually works as a sandwich maker at the Subway in south Colorado Springs. On Friday, he helped staff the store on Baptist Road.

"There were a lot of employees who were evacuated," he said.

While the store has had "heavy" morning sales, business in the evening has been slower, said Olivia Christensen,

"I think everyone is just trying to get food as they get on the road," she said of the morning rush.

Three doors west of Subway, Cost Cutters also has seen a decline in customers, said hairstylist Doni Richardson. The shop usually is staffed with two to three stylists after 5 p.m., she said. On Friday, only Richardson was working.

"Normally we do three people's hair an hour as a low point from 5 to 8" she said. "Now I am down to one an hour, and this is a very busy store."

Not all businesses on the fire's western edge have seen a decline in customers, partly because some evacuees are staying in recreational vehicles in the Leather Chaps Drive parking lot in front of Wal-Mart and hotels.

The 1st and 10 Sports Bar & Grill on Cipriani Loop has seen about a 10 percent increase in business the past two nights, mainly from evacuees, said manager Shane Holland.

With the change in the bar's customers base has come a change in the bar's mood, said bartender Cori Kemp. Instead of the nightly cheering and screaming at sporting events on the bar's TVs, most customers sit quietly, watching news about the fire.

"It's hard on everyone," she said. "I want to help them, but I don't know what to say to them because I don't know what they are going through."

The fire's full effect on shops and businesses near its western edge depends on the type of business, Fillo said. Hair salons, dry cleaners, clothing stores and other service providers likely will make up this week's lost revenues at a future date, but not eateries, he said.

"To them, those sales are just deferred," he said. "You will eventually get your hair cut and do your dry cleaning, but for restaurants, it is lost revenues because if you don't eat out tonight, you are not going to eat out twice tomorrow."


Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.

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