5-star businesses open at 50% capacity

Limited in-person dining is enjoyed by patrons at Rising Sun Distillery in Frisco on Friday, Jan. 12. (Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan)

For the first time since November, some Summit County businesses were able to open at 50% capacity on Saturday, Feb. 13.

On Saturday, restaurants, gyms, fitness centers and personal services businesses that are part of the 5 Star Business Certification Program were able to open under level yellow restrictions. For those who are certified that means expanding from 25% to 50% capacity or up to 50 people for gyms and personal services and 150 people for restaurants.

The change was made possible because of Colorado’s shift to Dial 2.0, which looks at metrics on a seven-day average as opposed to a 14-day average. With the new time frame and new thresholds imposed by the dial, Summit County was able to keep all three metrics in level orange for a week, allowing for five-star businesses to open in level yellow restrictions.

Lauren Hitchell, owner of Studio B Dance Center in Frisco, said the change will allow her to have more people in classes without having a waitlist as often.

“This just means that we can actually allow more people to come in which in turn could mean more people buying memberships and punch passes because now they know ‘well, I can actually get in and not be waitlisted,'” she said.

Hitchell said her business was already following all of the five-star requirements for gyms and fitness centers so enrolling in the program to allow for more capacity was a no-brainer.

“When COVID happened and we reopened we had been following all of the COVID procedures anyway with wearing masks indoors and even before COVID all of the equipment was getting sanitized before and after clients had touched them,” she said. “It was pretty much already implemented into our business.”

While being able to follow level yellow means more business for fitness centers and personal services, restaurants are not likely to see much of a change.

Outdoor yurt dining at Aurum in Breckenridge is one of the ways local establishments are providing a safe COVID-19 dining experience. (photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan)

Five-star restaurants are still required to have tables spaced 6 feet apart to limit the virus spread. With that restriction in mind, restaurants are only going to be able to add one or two more tables in the new capacity limit.

“Because of that 6 foot distance, we’re only adding one more table,” said Bonnie Lehman, owner and operator of Arapahoe Cafe and Pub in Dillon. “But we are able to maximize the seating at the table. We can seat more four-tops and six-tops as opposed to twos and threes.”

For some restaurants, a worker shortage means opening at higher capacity limits is more of a challenge than a blessing.

“The hardest thing is staffing,” said Steven Kaufman, owner of Red Mountain Grill in Silverthorne. “Everything’s on a last-minute basis. You find out at 5 o’clock on Friday that Saturday you can do something. There’s just not enough workers in the county. We wouldn’t be able to run at 100% if we wanted to.”

Kaufman said some of the reason for the shortage in staffing may be because of a ban on work visas during the pandemic.

A help wanted sign is posted outside Silverheels Bar and Grill and Kemosabe Sushi restaurants in Frisco on Saturday, Feb. 13. (Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan)

“A lot of times the resort hires a couple hundred or a few hundred foreigners that come in to work for the season and those people usually look for part-time jobs,” he said. “So there’s a lot of that labor pool that you just don’t have.”

While the 50% capacity is a welcome change to local business owners, it comes after months of anxiety and frustration with COVID-19 response efforts.

Hitchell said it wasn’t until fitness centers and gyms were allowed to use the program that she felt supported. When the program was first adopted by the county, officials didn’t allow gyms and fitness centers in.

“The fact that we were put on the backburner since the beginning has just been really, really frustrating,” she said. “Restaurants were able to operate at X amount but then we weren’t, but we’re a more controlled setting.”

Kaufman said he wishes policies affected small businesses the same as large stores.

“The reality is, especially being a five-star facility, we are much safer than going to the supermarket or any other big box store,” he said. “Mom-and-pop stores … are probably run the safest, the cleanest, the best out of anything and policies have made it very difficult for us to be in business.”

Customers enjoy limited in-person dining at Silverheels Bar and Grill on Saturday, Feb. 13. (photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan)


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