A downtown hotel whose room cancellations numbered just a couple of dozen a few days ago now has been devastated by Friday's postponement of the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs and the loss of thousands of visitors to the city.
A local financial institution that scrapped travel for employees flying on company business has taken its ban a step further; it's also requiring employees to self-quarantine for five business days before they return to work if they've flown on vacation.
A longtime downtown restaurant has ratcheted up cleaning and sanitizing efforts and is launching new delivery services it hopes will get food to customers stuck at home while offsetting reduced sales it's starting to see from walk-in traffic.
The warp-speed like spread of the coronavirus in Colorado and across the country over the last several days and weeks has left many Colorado Springs-area businesses scrambling and others reeling. Restaurants, hotels, manufacturers and the like are attempting to employ strategies they hope will allow them to conduct business as usual during the most unusual of times.
They've restricted travel; ramped up cleaning of door knobs, handrails and counters in offices, dining rooms and work spaces; sent reassuring emails to consumers to explain safety measures they've taken; and, in one case, posted signs at entrances to politely request that customers do business online or on the phone if they're showing coronavirus symptoms.
But it's a challenge to keep up.
"This time this week is a lot different than this time last week," said Jim Johnson, owner of GE Johnson Construction, the Springs-based general contractor that's one of the largest in the Rocky Mountain region.
Colorado recorded its first presumptive positive coronavirus case March 5. As of Saturday afternoon, nine days later, the number of Colorado cases stood at 101, including three in El Paso County, according to the state Department of Public Health & Environment. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control reported more than 2,600 cases and 56 deaths, including a woman in her 80s in El Paso County.
The reaction to the spread and efforts to contain the virus by governments, schools, arts groups and businesses has led to the cancellation or delay of dozens of Colorado Springs-area gatherings, meetings, concerts and sporting events, mirroring a nationwide trend.
Among the highest-profile disruptions locally: the postponement until September of Saturday's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Colorado Springs and the Springs-based Space Foundation's decision to scrap for now its 36th annual Space Symposium, which was scheduled to begin at the end of this month at The Broadmoor hotel.
The latter event was expected to bring more than 14,000 people to town from around the world, fill hotels and restaurants and pump tens of million into the local economy. Work is underway to figure out whether the symposium can take place later this year.
Here's a snapshot look at how some businesses are responding to the coronavirus and the effect it's having on others:
• At the downtown Hilton Garden Inn, General Manager Daniel Valdez said Wednesday the loss of business because of coronavirus-related cancellations hadn't been too bad; three companies with "probably a couple dozen rooms between them" was the only fallout.
That all changed within 48 hours, especially as a result of Friday's postponement of the Space Symposium.
"I would call the cancellations that we've received, since the last time we spoke, devastating," Valdez said. "I'm sure we're not alone."
He and his staff were calculating the cancellations Friday and didn't have an exact number, but the Space Symposium's loss "was definitely a big hit ... It's been pretty significant."
The hotel also has fielded additional coronavirus-related cancellations not connected to the symposium, he said.
"The phones are ringing for cancellations, not reservations," Valdez said. "It hasn't been pretty."
Can anything be done? The hotel is exploring a cut in room rates, but it's questionable if that will help attract guests during the current crisis, he said.
"If people aren't traveling," Valdez said, "they're simply not traveling."
Up to now, the Hilton Garden Inn has been ramping up cleaning and sanitizing efforts for guests, Valdez said.
Housekeepers must dispose of gloves they've worn while cleaning a guest room, then wash their hands before donning another pair and entering another room, he said.
The practice has been in place before the coronavirus, but hotel officials now are making sure it's mandatory and are monitoring workers.
• One day after Colorado's first presumptive positive case, Ent Credit Union scrapped travel for employees scheduled to fly to training sessions, conferences and other out-of-town events, said Jennifer Sussman, Ent's chief marketing officer. At least four employees had trips canceled.
At the same time, employees who fly on vacation or for other personal reasons are being told to remain at home for five business days after they finish traveling — which would stretch to seven with a weekend — before coming back to work, Sussman said.
Some of those employees will have the ability — with home computers, laptops and Wi-Fi connections — to work remotely.
"One of the most important things for us is that we're maintaining the safety of our employees and our members," Sussman said.
"We want to make sure folks don't come in and create any exposure for employees or members," she added.
Ent's actions don't stop with employees; it's also asking members for help.
It's placing posters at the entrances of its branches that ask members who are experiencing coronavirus symptoms of a cough, shortness of breath or a fever, or who have traveled to a coronavirus-impacted area over the last 14 days, to use online or mobile banking or to call Ent's main number.
"Part of it is really just trying to redirect folks to those other (banking) channels," Sussman said.
Like many businesses, Ent — which has a north-side headquarters and 22 branches in El Paso and Teller counties — has increased the frequency of cleaning efforts, including wiping down doorknobs, conference tables and stairwell rails.
ATMs also are being cleaned more often, though they're handled by a contractor because of the sensitivity of the machines.
More bottles of hand sanitizer are being placed at Ent branches; employees are being told to use sanitizer and wipe their counters after each transaction; and handshakes are being avoided as much as possible.
"Not just with each other, but with outside groups coming in," Sussman said. "If you want to do something, do the elbow bump instead of having that handshake."
• In the more than 40 years since it opened, Poor Richard’s — the downtown restaurant, café, book store and toy store — has had its share of problems, including an arson fire and some personal tragedies, said owner Richard Skorman.
But the coronavirus is unlike anything else, and Skorman said it's forcing major changes in the way he’s doing business.
Some changes are no surprise: the addition of evening sanitizing to go with a nightly cleaning of door handles, knobs, toys in a play area, menus, ordering systems, flat surfaces and high-traffic areas; staffers wiping down other busy areas during their shifts; and hand sanitizer provided for customers at every counter.
To guard against transmission of the virus, Poor Richard’s is abandoning self-service. Customers no longer will be allowed to pour their own coffee or grab their own flatware, which has been moved behind a counter along with the restaurant’s soup and stew bar. Need salt and pepper? An employee will hand it to you; when you give it back, they’ll wipe it down.
Staffers who handle cash transactions will be barred from serving food or providing utensils to customers without first washing their hands or putting on sanitary gloves. Signs posted on the front door ask customers to remain outside and call inside for service if they feel sick or have coronavirus symptoms.
“Call us, here’s our number if you suddenly notice symptoms,” he said. “We’ll deliver to you out in your car or out on the sidewalk. But don’t come in. We urge you not to come in.”
And some tables and chairs have been removed to allow remaining furniture to be spread out, which allows customers to maintain the proper “social distance” from one another that’s been recommended by medical professionals.
Poor Richard’s also is launching major changes in the way it serves customers, which Skorman said amounts to reinventing the business.
For the first time, he’s partnering with a delivery service — DoorDash — to bring pizzas, sandwiches and other menu items to the homes of customers who might be working remotely or don’t feel well.
And for customers who will be at their homes for extended periods, Poor Richard’s is launching bulk deliveries of items such as soup, salads and lasagna, along with deliveries of books and toys. Poor Richard’s employees will handle the bulk deliveries, taking proper precautions to guard against the spread of the virus when they deliver items.
“People will be able to order three quarts of our chicken soup and a tray of lasagna where they’ll be able to get five servings,” Skoram said. “Whatever they want.”
As the coronavirus has spread, Skorman said Poor Richard’s has begun to see a drop in sales. Over the last five days, business at the restaurant, café and book store — though not the toy store — has seen a 25% year-over-year drop, he said.
Poor Richard’s suspended its music nights to avoid packed groups in tight quarters; they’ll resume when temperatures rise and the events can be moved to a patio. Poor Richard’s also has closed its upstairs community meeting space to groups.
The scrapping of music nights has contributed to the drop in sales, Skorman said, but he also suspects some people are beginning to venture out less to dine and shop.
“Nothing like this,” Skorman said of the issues he’s faced in running his business. “This is really a tough one. So many implications.”
• Clean and sanitary surroundings are always important for restaurants. Today, they're paramount, said Luke Travins, owner of Springs-based Concept Restaurants, which operates Jose Muldoon's, Colorado Craft, MacKenzie's Chop House and Flatiron's American Bar and Grill.
"We're wiping things down more frequently like menus, doorknobs, any fixtures in the bathrooms," he said. "Those type of things we've doubled and tripled our checking of those areas and our attention to those areas."
Even before the coronavirus, Concept had a stockpile of commercial-grade cleaning products, towels, latex gloves and other items used by restaurant employees, Travins said.
The restaurants then added hand sanitizer starting March 4 at their host stands for customers and employees, although locating a steady supply is easier said than done, Travins said.
"The darn hand sanitizer you can't get," he said. "I saw the recipe online; maybe we'll try and make it."
So far, Concept's restaurants haven't seen a drop in walk-up business, yet they did lose three large groups that had booked private-room reservations — one for 60 people and two others for 30 people each, Travins said a few days ago.
"It definitely will affect sales," he said.
Those cancellations came before the postponements of the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Space Symposium.
• Borealis Fat Bike, the Springs build-to-order maker of thick-tired bikes that maneuver through snow and sand, is waiting for an overdue shipment of custom-molded frames from a Chinese factory that had been expected in late February but now might not arrive until the end of April, said owner Steve Kaczmarek.
The shipment was initially delayed by a longer-than-normal Chinese New Year, Kaczmarek said. But his order was further delayed after factory workers in China were quarantined because of the coronavirus, he said.
Kaczmarek said he's been told the shipment of about 100 frames — fewer than the 350 he was supposed to receive — now will be put on a cargo ship Monday or Friday of next week. If that happens, the shipment will take about 40 days to arrive.
Not only is his shipment taking longer, but his per-unit transportation cost of $5,000 for just 100 frames is much higher than if he had received his full order at a shipping cost of $6,000.
Ironically, the delay in getting the frames isn't quite as big a problem for him as it might normally be. Sales slow this time of year, anyway, because his bikes are popular for riding in the snow and winter is almost over, he said.
Still, sales have come to a "screeching halt" this year — about 40% of what he had forecast, Kaczmarek said. Customers skittish about coronavirus impacts might be one reason, he said.
But bike enthusiasts waiting for tax refunds before they make a discretionary purchase that can average $2,000 (and run upward of $6,000) and a lack of snow in some parts of the country also might have contributed to the sales slide, he said.
Trump administration tariffs also have hurt his business; about 60% of the products used to assemble his bikes come from China and Kaczmarek said he'd save thousands on his purchases if the tariffs were removed or reduced.
"We're just a nice little company," he said. "But this is going to be a tough year."
• Doug Price, CEO of Visit Colorado Springs, said it's too soon to tell how the outbreak will affect the summer tourism season.
Price said he is still optimistic, and that the tourism promotion agency is pushing local and state residents to visit area attractions and take advantage of cheap prices for air travel, hotels and other tourism-related activities designed to persuade consumers to take trips.
"We believe this summer, Coloradans and people in nearby states will take advantage of low airfares and fuel prices to visit Colorado and see our new and reopened attractions, including the Olympic and Paralympic Museum and the Flying W Ranch," Price said. "The state of Colorado is ranked as the No. 2 most desirable destination to visit after Hawaii by (travel industry consultant) Longwoods International."
• GE Johnson builds schools and hospitals among its many construction projects, but the company has encountered no delays or suspensions at any of its job sites ordered by customers, owner Jim Johnson said.
The company is trying to keep pace with the lightning-fast updates being distributed by government officials and medical professionals about the virus, and then getting that information to employees in the field and in GE Johnson offices.
Employees who feel sick are encouraged to remain home, use sick days and talk with a physician via a phone or video portal available as a company benefit, Johnson said.
• Some companies might worry about lost sales. But Frank Caris, CEO of Colorado Springs-based digital X-ray equipment manufacturer dpiX, said the coronavirus outbreak has brought additional contract manufacturing business to the company’s plant from U.S. manufacturers.
"We are seeing increased demand from U.S. manufacturers who want us to produce their product designs at our fab here in Colorado Springs as an alternative to China," he said.
Caris said dpiX has been boosting production this month to build inventory in case employee absences increase because of the outbreak. The company hasn’t had any supply chain issues because it has attempted to avoid Chinese suppliers.
DpiX is limiting work-related travel to countries where the outbreak is most severe, including China, Iran, South Korea and much of Europe.
• U.S. Bank conducted a drill this past week with all locations in the Mountain time zone to test whether employees who are able to work remotely could do their jobs from home.
During the drill, the bank tested whether most employees could work online from home, with tellers and other customer service personnel remaining onsite.
While the bank lobby might not have looked much different to customers, most management and support employees were working remotely. Jim Harris, president of the bank’s Colorado Springs operations, said via email that he participated in the drill, and "from my experience, the process worked very smoothly without any interruptions in serving our customers."
• Several defense firms and tech companies generally have adopted similar strategies of restricting travel and sending employees home to work remotely as needed.
Braxton Technologies is allowing employees to work from home, if necessary, and keeping only essential personnel working on satellite control missions at its headquarters in the Catalyst Campus near downtown Colorado Springs, said chairman Kevin O’Neil.
The company also has banned all international travel and restricted domestic travel to what is needed for "critical mission support," he said.
Cherwell Software, which makes software that helps keep computers, networks and other information technology equipment running properly, cancelled its CLEAR 2020 Europe conference, which had been scheduled for March 9-10 in London, and is evaluating whether to reschedule the meeting.
The Colorado Springs-based company has banned travel to countries where the outbreak is most acute, including China, Iran, South Korea and much or Europe, encouraging employees to use videoconferencing for meetings. The company said its personnel are accustomed and well prepared to continue business as usual if a large number of employees are told to work remotely.
Employees at Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defense company that's one of the Springs' largest employers, is telling workers who've potentially been exposed to the coronavirus to "work remotely and self-quarantine," a spokeswoman said.
"Additionally, we have instructed employees to avoid travel to or through specific areas in Asia and Europe, and have limited all other international and domestic travel to ensure it is necessary for business. We are pre-screening visitors to company locations and limiting guests to ensure visits are necessary for business. When the circumstances warrant, we deep clean work areas and common spaces in any facility with elevated exposure to COVID-19, and regularly share exposure-prevention protocols to reinforce healthy behaviors."
Microchip Technologies, which manufactures semiconductors in Colorado Springs, said earlier this month that it has imposed a "strict policy on travel to affected regions and quarantine procedures for employees returning from such regions."
The Arizona-based company also told stockholders it is seeing "very weak" demand for its products in Asia, especially in China, and its supply chain is returning to normal "at a slower pace than expected." The company declined last week to provide an update.
Keysight Technologies, which operates a test and measurement equipment manufacturing operation in Colorado Springs, said via email that it has seen "no material impacts" from the virus to its supply chain and has halted all non-essential international and domestic business travel.
The company also said many of its Colorado Springs employees are already working from home and it is encouraging all employees to use available tools to work from home as much as possible.
Parsons, which owns the former Polaris Alpha defense contracting unit, is having employees work from home when possible and developing capabilities for long-term virtual working arrangements.
Non-essential travel is being postponed or canceled, including attendance at events and conferences. The company also is telling employees to stay home or quarantine if they experience coronavirus symptoms, have contact with someone known to have COVID-19 or recently returned from a restricted location.
Vectrus, the Springs-based defense contractor, has restricted business travel to its mission essential employees, and is encouraging workers to use technology for virtual meetings as much as possible, the company said via email.
"Our leadership is communicating with our employees regularly to keep them updated on precautions and actions they should take in response to the situation," Vectrus said.