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Coronavirus Winter: A small-town portrait in black and white

A Louisville photographer captured the devastating effect of COVID-19 on small businesses.

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — When the stay-at-home order was issued by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to slow the spread of COVID-19, former 9NEWS Photojournalist Chris Wheeler was stuck inside like the rest of us. 

Being a journalist for his entire career, he wanted to cover the story, to find out how the virus was affecting his town. 

Since he didn't have a video camera handy, Wheeler grabbed his still camera and started taking pictures. The result is the 30 minute 9NEWS Special "Coronavirus Winter: A Small Town Portrait in Black and White."  

The business owners there were economically devastated by the shutdown. They have been going through shock, anger, resolve and even humor to try and stay afloat. 

It's a case study set in Louisville. But it could be the story of most small towns in the country.

Credit: Chris Wheeler

It was like the flip of a light switch. Louisville is a vibrant and fun community, and was riding its good fortune, along with many towns in the state. 

Business was good, the annual Labor Day Parade brought out hundreds of smiling residents to share their community pride. 

Shops were busy, bars and restaurants usually packed, and the future looked bright. Then the coronavirus hit. All the sudden the small business owners were facing something they never had imagined. 

They had to tell their best customers to stay at home. Business stood still. Shock and anger set in. Many didn't know how they were going to pay next months rent, or their taxes, or their employees or if they would even survive. 

Wheeler captured what they were going through one frame at a time. 

"After I started taking black and white pictures it hit me," he said. "They were very similar to pictures I'd seen of the Great Depression in 1929 —dramatic pictures of faces that told an emotional story".

He kept taking pictures, kept capturing stories, kept recording history. 

Credit: Chris Wheeler

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Slowly the owners and restaurants and breweries started adapting, offering takeout, delivery and curbside service. And the residents came out to support them the best they could. It helped a little. Most businesses applied for SBA loans, and the City of Louisville offered $5,000 grants to try and help. It helped a little more. 

Many of the business owners started thinking they might survive if they could just open back up soon. And on May 9, some of them did. It wasn't like before; there were lots of restrictions like distancing and requiring masks. But it felt good to be back open for business. The owners of the restaurants and bars were looking forward to similar openings hopefully in a few weeks. 

It's not ideal by any measure, and there's still a good chance some businesses may never reopen. But since so many people did the right thing and stayed home, virus numbers were down and the prospect of a semi-normal summer was a real thing. 

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 Coronavirus Winter was originally released on May 17 and re-released on June 11 with new information. Watch the original program below: 

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