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Local brewery 'treading water' during omicron surge

Compared to earlier COVID-19 surges, small businesses are receiving less guidance from local government agencies about how to stop the spread.

In March of 2020, the owners of Lady Justice Brewing Company moved their operation to East Colfax Avenue in Aurora. Three days later, Colorado confirmed its first case of COVID-19.

“It hasn’t been easy at all,” said Betsy Lay, founder and brewer at Lady Justice. “Any business plan or any planning you were doing in January, February of 2020 immediately went out the window, so people have had to be creative and have had to persevere through a lot of stuff.”

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the “Lady J” team has definitely made the most of their new space. Inside, floor-to-ceiling murals celebrate iconic figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Marsha P. Johnson.

What the space doesn’t have — for now, at least — is barstools. The owners removed them as a way to encourage social distancing at the taproom. They’ve also closed off every other table so groups can space out. The brewery also has a mask requirement, regardless of vaccination status.

Lay estimates that the brewery, which donates 100% of its profits over costs of its annual beer membership to Colorado nonprofits benefiting women and girls, is operating at about 50% capacity.

Credit: Rocky Mountain PBS

The Lady Justice taproom is nestled on the 9700 block of East Colfax Avenue in Aurora, mere blocks from the Denver County line. When they moved there, that county boundary felt a bit more arbitrary than it does now, in a time when COVID-19 mitigation policies often vary county-to-county.

Lady Justice Brewing is technically in Adams County. On the other side of Colfax is Arapahoe County. Both of those counties are served by the Tri-County Health Department, but they — along with Douglas County — are formally separating from the agency.

The changes have been a lot to keep up with, especially for business owners. For the team at Lady Justice Brewing, the pandemic has felt like one pivot after another.

“I think in January and February of 2021, pivoting looked more like waiting for more government mandates, seeing what leaders in our community we’re going to tell us to do, and just sort of bracing for whatever was going to come,” Lay said.

But what about now, in 2022? “It feels like less of a pivot and more of treading water and just trying to be as creative as possible; trying to stay as steady as possible,” Lay explained.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has made staying steady a more difficult challenge. Colorado has set records in COVID-19 cases this month, and hospitalizations are rising as well. Meanwhile, guidance from the federal government about things like testing and isolation periods has led to confusion and condemnation from public health officials.

Locally, Tri-County Health currently has two mask orders in place: one that applies to public indoor spaces and another concerning schools. You can read more about the orders here.

> This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. 9NEWS joined this historic collaboration with more than 40 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public.

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