Retail and restaurant closings are a fact of life in Colorado Springs, as they are in other cities.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has triggered months of economic hardship for many local, regional and national stores and restaurants. As a result, the list of annual closings is longer than ever, some retail experts say.

"This was worse, by far," said Jay Carlson, managing broker and principal with Springs brokerage Front Range Commercial, when asked to compare closings during the Great Recession to this year's pandemic economy.

"There's more people hurt and right on the edge of closing right now than I've ever seen," Carlson said. "It's far worse than it was back then. Back then, at least they had people coming in. But now they're virtually shut down. They can't afford to pay their employees. It's just a sad, sad situation."

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Colorado Springs-area restaurant and business closings in 2020

Several local restaurants shuttered permanently after a state-ordered closing of indoor dining rooms from mid-March to May, which was intended to slow or halt the spread of the coronavirus. Months of fluctuating seating limits for dining rooms then followed before another round of dining room closings were imposed in late November in El Paso County. 

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Restaurants have tried to survive by offering takeout and delivery service and, increasingly, outdoor dining. Even if they're still open, though, several have laid off employees because of a drastic reduction in business.

Retailers, meanwhile, were ordered to limit the numbers of customers inside their brick-and-mortar stores, another blow to businesses already reeling because of competition with Amazon and other online retailers.

Mark Useman, a senior broker with NAI Highland in Colorado Springs, said it's too soon to know for sure if this year's number of local retail and restaurant shutdowns has exceeded those recorded during a Great Recession year. Closings as a result of the pandemic, however, are obviously numerous, he said.

"The restaurant industry right now is hurting," Useman said. "Retailers are, too, to some degree. It depends on their online connections — how much are they doing to make up the difference by doing online sales? But restaurants really can't do that. And you can only have so much outdoor seating in the middle of winter in Colorado Springs."

Not all of this year's closings were because of the pandemic.

Some restaurant and retailers that closed Colorado Springs locations already were teetering financially. Among them: Pier 1 Imports, Gordmans and Stein Mart. 

Others closed when they couldn't work out new leases with landlords, such as the Burlington department store at the Chapel Hills Mall.

And a few local retailers and restaurant owners retired, downsized or changed the focus of their business, with their closings unrelated to financial problems created by the pandemic. Examples include downtown staples William Kurtz Ltd. men's clothing and the CJ Kard greeting card and gift store.

"We've seen a lot of change and closures for a combination of reasons, not just COVID, but planned closures because of the changing nature of how people are doing retail," Useman said.

How many more pandemic-related closings take place in 2021 remains to be seen.

"It's all going to depend on what our governments are going to allow to happen," Carlson said.

"Because of the vaccines, if the governments don't feel as much pressure to close things because they're worried about people getting sick and dying, and they let restaurants open at least to 50% capacity, if not better, we'll see a great resurgence in people going out to eat and restaurants surviving and so forth. But that's what it's going to take — the ability to reopen."

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And while many consumers have turned to online shopping during the pandemic, Carlson suspects they'll want to support local businesses and will return to brick-and-mortar stores when they can.

The fate of some stores and restaurants in 2021 also will be tied to whether landlords can work out deals with tenants and whether lenders will cut property owners some slack, Useman said. Even if landlords want to give retailers and restaurants a break on rent,  they're still obligated to make payments on loans they've taken out to purchase their properties.

"The next six months will tell what will happen to a lot of people because of the COVID," Useman said.

"Most people are just trying to hang on until next summer when things get better," he said. "The question is, who has the financial ability to hang on with help from everybody? That's going to be the question. Can the landlords, can the lenders, can everybody help each other and make it through the next six months? That's when I think we'll know what the final toll's going to be due to the COVID."

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