Guest commentary: Reopening must happen soon or decisions will have to be made
As the owners of Jimmy’s Restaurant, we feel it is our responsibility to speak up regarding the planned reopening process. It is important to understand and respect the needs of public health, but we would like to shine a light on the reality that local business owners are currently facing. There was never a doubt as to our survival throughout the past couple of decades — until now.
We are in serious jeopardy of losing the business that has served this community so well during the past 23 years. If we are forced to walk away from our business, not only does Aspen lose a long-term employer of more than 50 people as well as a tourist- and local-serving business, we run the risk of being sued by our landlord for breaking our lease — and therefore, losing our homes and life savings. We would lose everything we have spent our lives building, and we are most definitely not alone in this position.
We are fighters but also astute business people. As much as we’d like to blindly say that we will survive, we cannot. This situation is no fault of anyone’s, but we do have the ability to make the decisions about what to do now.
We understand that the COVID-19 outbreak represents an unprecedented public health crisis and that the disease is both highly contagious and deadly. However, we must acknowledge that it’s not a perfect world and people will get sick. We do not shut down human activity for other illnesses that can be severe and even lead to death. We do not choose as a society to control all human behaviors that lead to bad outcomes nor do we lock down our activity to stop the spread of communicable diseases. We have agreed to tolerate a certain level of illness. It is imperative that this societal acceptance level be addressed by our public health officials with a realistic answer.
We respect our Board of Health’s expertise and knowledge in regard to understanding this crisis and do not pretend to know any better. Our board must also acknowledge that they are doing the best they can, do not have all the answers and that accepting risk is part of this process.
Despite its inherent flaws, our Paycheck Protection Program loan allows us to keep paying our employees while we are closed and will pay for two months of rent and utilities. We are able to effectively preserve our cash flow, which was severely impaired by our loss of revenue. Come June 5, we will be forced to make an economic decision about opening our doors based on the proposed capacity restrictions.
The longer we wait, the longer it will be until we know what happens next with COVID-19 in our community, and the economic clock is ticking. Should we be able to open our restaurant during the covered period of the PPP loans (now until June 5), we would be able to see how we can effectively redesign our business and accommodate guests while we are not under the pressure of making payroll or paying rent. We are not even concerned about being profitable.
We need at least two weeks to work through the seemingly impossible task of creating a viable business with 50% occupancy. We need runway length to gear up, work on systems in real time and implement strategies. We need to know that we can survive on a reduced occupancy in the event that restrictions do not loosen.
Once the PPP loan duration ends, we no longer have the financial flexibility to experiment with business models. Our choices will be very slim because we will be under the pressure of payroll, rent and other expenses that will quickly erode our cash position.
As soon as the state eases restrictions on hospitality, allow us the opportunity to create viable systems to operate at restricted capacities. Actively petition the state to allow Pitkin County to open up hospitality with the assurances that it will be under a watchful eye. We will help write and set the standards for safety. But we must be allowed to start at least two weeks prior to June 5. We need to be operational in some capacity no later than May 22, ideally by May 15.
We are all in the same storm but are in different boats. Pitkin County needs to worry about the boat in which we find ourselves. We may share some commonality with other mountain towns, but we also have to acknowledge our advantages. We have a strong hand and need to play it without fear.
Jimmy Yeager has owned and operated Jimmy’s: An American Restaurant & Bar since 1997. Jessica Lischka is his business partner. The Restaurant Row establishment was recently named as one of the top 10 restaurant bars in the country by the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation.
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