The man who came into the gift shop was coughing into his hands and touching the merchandise. And he wanted to chat about the new coronavirus.
For Silver Lynx shop owners Scott and Mary Carkin, that moment late last week sealed a difficult decision. Considering the need to care for her high-risk parents, the prospect of having to tap expensive health insurance and an inability to properly disinfect their store and maintain an adequate distance between themselves and their customers, they set aside a financially healthy month of March — “sales were going great,” Mary Carkin said — for the sake of their own personal health.
And so Silver Lynx closed. It’s impossible to know when the store that’s been in business on Ouray’s Main Street for five years will reopen.
“We can personally survive two months tops if we wipe out our savings. And then we’re going to be in big trouble,” Carkin said.
Businesses across Ouray County shuttered or pulled back services, theaters went dark and nonprofits suspended programming for at least the next few weeks in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The virus has yet to trigger a positive test in Ouray County but has hit mountain and tourist communities particularly hard in the last week.
Gov. Jared Polis on Monday limited all bars and restaurants in the state to takeout orders only for 3o days and closed theaters, gyms, casinos and brewpubs.
Some local businesses outside those categories vowed to remain open, noting they were taking extra measures to clean and sanitize their businesses — particularly high-touch surfaces — in an effort to ward off the spread of the virus.
Other businesses turned to offering delivery options for customers, providing curbside services or call-ahead ordering, induding Dudcett’s Market in Ouray, which closed to in-store shoppers on Tuesday and began taking phone-in orders only to be pidced up at the door.
Dudcett’s owner Christen Williams told the Ouray City Council on Monday she is beginning to run out of stock at the store and will have trouble replenishing it She said she anticipates she’ll receive only half of the items on her order with the next shipment.
“I foresee that we’re going to have very challenging food situations,” she said.
At Mountain Market in Ridgway, customers came and went as usual on Tuesday. Most items, except for bread and hand sanitizer, seemed to be in stock.
Discussions about possible food shortages came up at the Ouray County commissioners’ meeting where they declared the disaster emergency on Monday. True Grit restaurant owner Tammee Tuttle volunteered to work with the health department to find a way to supply foods she and other restaurants can order from food service companies if local grocery stores run out. The governor’s order closing restaurant dining rooms has left restaurants with take-out as their only option. Tuttle said she’s not trying to make money, just keep people fed.
Mountain Fever Shirts & Gifts co-owner Tamara Gulde said March and April are busy months for the store and that revenue is “right where it should be.” She said the store’s three employees have told her and her husband, Bruce, that they want to work.
“They’re telling us, ‘I want to work. I need to work,’” she said.
Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs General Manager Ryan Hein said business is up 15 percent so far this month over March of last year. The lodge has canceled spa services and is waiting 24 hours to clean a room, then another 24 hours before renting it out again in an effort to keep potential contamination at bay.
“I’m trying to be proactive so we don’t have to dose,” he said.
But conditions are changing fast. On Friday, Hotel Ouray owner Patty Biolchini said the hotel had received a handful of cancellations — including one from a man in Italy who visits Ouray every year — but had countered those with reservations from places like Grand Junction and Colorado Springs. On Monday, the 4-room hotel was hit with eight cancellations in a 22-hour period. Most were for this month and next. But one was for the Fourth of July, the biggest tourist weekend in Ouray. That has Biolchini concerned.
“I’ve got cancellations coming out of my ears,” she said. “I’m really, really starting to get scared. It’s taken a definite turn for the worse.”
At least six hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in Ouray have closed or will dose in the coming weeks, according to a list compiled by the Ouray Tourism Office, although it wasn’t immediately clear how many are seasonal closures compared to closures in response to COVID-19.
The Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings closed on Saturday and will remain dosed through May i. Lodge owners indicated on their website that they will carry out previously planned improvements to exterior rooms and spa areas.
Some Ouray business owners said they are hopeful the tide will turn in a few months - and that the desire for people to travel by car and low gas prices will contribute to a profitable tourist season.
“A lot of people are going to cancel,” said Realtor Marc Hitchcox, who also owns the Ouray Shirt Company and High Country Leathers & Lifestyles with his wife, Kathy. “There are going to be pent-up travel demands, they’re going to be jonesing for it”
Hitchcox, who has lived in area for more than 3o years, said it’s going to be unsettling for a while, but he thinks it will be the best summer the area has ever seen.
Seth Cagin, who had plans to open his gym, Cora Fitness on Cora Street in Ridgway this month, said he is postponing opening due to coronavirus concerns.
“Corona has done me in he said.
Cagin said he feels lucky that he didn’t already open two weeks ago. As things stand now, he will “wait until the world settles down” before opening.
The Sherbino Theater in Ridgway and the Wright Opera House in Ouray have canceled or postponed all events for the rest of this month, while Weehawken Creative Arts has crossed all performances and classes off its calendar into the second week of April.
Wright Opera House Executive Director Alyssa Preston said the board of directors discussed everything from maintaining business as usual to shutting down until mid-April. Ultimately, she and the board decided it was best to be cautious.
“Not that we’re in any kind of panic mode and shutting everything down, but we’re just being wise in what we’re trying to do and be a good citizen as far as the Wright goes,” she said.
She said the recent opening of the tavern and an expansion in programming in the last few months has put the Wright in a good position financially, so a hiatus for a few weeks isn’t a big deal. The Wright has paid for the license to show movies twice a weelc, so those can be rescheduled. And the Ouray County Performing Arts Guild hopes to reschedule Brother Crowe, a bluegrass and folk group from Detroit, for this fall.
But if the Wright is dark for two months, that would have a “huge, huge impact,” Preston said.
The challenge for Mary and Scott Carkin was pitting their income against their values. In the end, values won out.
They thought about Mary’s at-risk parents — her father is 87, her mother is 77 and has a lung condition. They thought about the high deductible they’d have to meet if either one of them got sick and had to be hospitalized. And they thought about the fact that while they could wipe down door handles and counters, there was no way they could disinfect their mer chandise. Their hope is that by isolating themselves now, by local governments trying to get ahead of the virus now, the summer tourist season vital to Ouray’s economy will remain largely intact.
Owning a small business comes with inherent risks, particularly in Ouray, a place prone to natural disasters like wildfires and avalanches and the road closures that can accompany them and cut off traffic from one direction.
“Those things are short-term. They’re manageable. We’ve all coped with that,” Mary Carkin said.
“But this is something that I don’t remember in my lifetime having to anticipate that is such a large scale, and something that looks like it’s going to be around for a while.”