DENVER — After months in a pandemic and weeks of debilitating restrictions, hundreds of small businesses are financially struggling and many are on the brink of shutting down for good.
That's what inspired a group of Colorado lawyers to come together and create the Colorado COVID Legal Relief (CCLR) partnership, offering small businesses legal assistance for free.
The services have helped 130 small businesses already, like Jitters' Java in Durango.
"I have local and organic coffee," said Aimee Beauregard, the owner of Jitters' Java. "I make baked goods. I'm a one-woman show. I do all the cooking. I work the drive-thru seven days a week."
Jitters' Java is a small coffee drive-thru in downtown Durango. Like virtually every small business owner this year, Beauregard said she has struggled to keep her coffee shop afloat.
"There was no business," she said. "Many days I would just sit here.".
As a business that serves food, Jitters' Java was never forced to shut down by local restrictions. But Beauregard said business during the pandemic was slow. Often, she said, her coffee drive-thru cost more than it made.
Jitters' Java joined a long and growing list of Colorado small businesses about to close.
"I thought I was losing everything," Beauregard said. "Everything I had struggled for, my dream, everything was gone."
She said she believes if not for the help of CCLR, she would have lost her business.
CCLR launched in June 2020 with a focus on engaging some of the state’s hardest hit businesses. Today, 79% of CCLR clients are women-owned businesses, 39% are minority owned and 21% are from outside the Front Range.
"To think about what small businesses are going through, trying to shoulder the burden of this without volunteer support? I don't think they could do it and they shouldn't have to," said Keith Trammell, a lawyer at WilmerHale in Denver and a volunteer with CCLR. "Frankly, they need a lot more help."
Trammell is now one of 170 Colorado lawyers, who volunteer several hours a week to offer free legal help on everything from landlord/tenant issues, contract negotiations, unemployment and furloughs, to guidance toward immediate and accessible financial resources.
Services that many business owners could not afford on their own before the pandemic, let alone now.
"What we're trying to do is keep businesses from closing," Trammell said. "Their inability to survive through this is going to be the story of Colorado's economy for years to come. Unless we can really do something to support them."
Today, CCLR is a partnership between the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the Colorado Lawyers Committee, WilmerHale, Davis Graham and Stubbs, the Denver Metro Chamber, the Denver Bar Association and the Colorado Bar Association.
"I wouldn't be here without them," said Beauregard. "I could have lost everything. If they didn't help like they did, I would have lost everything."
Colorado COVID Legal Relief has been able to help more than 130 small businesses since June. As they look to expand that client base even more, Trammell said they are also looking for more lawyers to volunteer with CCLR across the state.
Visit ColoradoCOVIDRelief.org if you are a lawyer who wants to volunteer or if you are a small business owner in need of free legal assistance.
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