Some Summit business owners say they’re not interested in implementing a vaccine requirement for customers

New Summit County public health order recommends restaurants and bars require proof of vaccination

Matt Vawter, left, and Patrick Murphy are pictured in December 2020 at Rootstalk in Breckenridge. Vawter said the restaurant is not exploring a vaccine requirement for customers.
Taylor Sienkiewicz/Summit Daily News archive

Summit County’s public health order was updated Tuesday, Nov. 30, and the latest version has a few tweaks, including a recommendation that restaurants and bars require guests ages 12 and older to be vaccinated.

Just a few days after updating the order, the county and Summit Chamber of Commerce co-hosted a virtual town hall that reviewed how the virus is impacting the community and state. At the end of the presentation, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland gave a few suggestions for steps business owners could take to help curb the spread of the virus, including implementing a vaccine requirement for guests and staff, allowing staff time off if they feel sick and getting tested when experiencing symptoms.

But some business owners are hesitant to implement a mask mandate much less a vaccine requirement. Though many business owners acknowledge that keeping guests and staff healthy is their first priority, they said they also have to balance other effects at play when measures such as these are in place.

Rootstalk owner Matt Vawter said his restaurant team is in the business of creating an enjoyable experience for guests.

“We’re in the business of making people happy when they walk through the door and creating an experience that is special. It’s nourishment with food and fun with friends and good conversation,” Vawter said. “That’s our goal in the hospitality industry. When you start putting things like this on hospitality workers to be the police at the door, you’re already turning the experience — from the minute they walk into the door — into a different experience.”

Vawter said he’s currently not exploring a vaccine requirement for guests but that his entire staff is fully vaccinated by their own choice. He predicted that if forced by the county to implement a vaccine requirement for guests, it would place an additional burden on his staff, which would face the brunt of criticism from visitors who are not in favor of mandates.

This isn’t a revelation to county leaders. In fact, at a Summit County Board of Health meeting Nov. 23, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo told other county leaders that a group of business owners, hospital workers and more was formed to weighed in on how various virus mitigation strategies would impact their industries. Vargo said the response was that extra measures could take a big toll on frontline staff.

“There was a considerable amount of concern raised by that group around impacts to frontline workers of any sort of mask mandate or any sort of vaccination requirement in terms of putting those frontline staff in the way of people coming into their retail or restaurant shop,” Vargo said at the meeting.

It’s not just the criticism from some customers that business owners fear, either. It’s also the possible financial repercussions. Vawter said if his restaurant were to implement a vaccine requirement, it would likely turn away business, whether that be because of individuals who weren’t made aware of the vaccine requirement before booking their reservation or because of individuals who won’t support establishments that have such a requirement in place.

“If they don’t have a vaccine, I’m faced at that point in time to tell them to leave and miss out on that business, and I’ve had that table booked for that group, and now they’re gone,” Vawter said. “Now I have to hope that someone off the street comes in as a walk-in and that they fill that seat (and) have a vaccine.”

Lisa Holenko, co-owner of Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco, said she hasn’t had the time to evaluate whether a vaccine requirement makes sense for her store but that it’s not off the table. Holenko said if she did implement such a policy, she’d likely need to hire another part-time staff member, which is one more financial aspect to think about.

“It’s unfortunate — and I would still do it — but you need somebody at the door,” Holenko said. “I have to put another person on staff to do that. We did it last year. We had somebody at the door counting how many people were coming in. … But it is a financial burden on us, too.”

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