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Q&A: Denver bars weigh in on state-issued order to close again

Less than two weeks after getting the green light to reopen, Colorado bars are being told to close to in-person service effective July 1.

DENVER, Colorado — Colorado is ordering bars and nightclubs to close their doors effective July 1. Governor Jared Polis made the announcement during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. He cited a slight uptick in coronavirus cases and concern over activity in neighboring states.

"Our country and the world has not yet figured out in a pandemic how to do bars and nightclubs safely in a pandemic, we just haven't," he said. 

RELATED: Bars and nightclubs to close to in-person service again following 2 weeks of increases in Colorado COVID-19 cases

Bars operating in a county with a variance from the state are allowed to stay open pursuant to said variance. Bars offering food from a food truck or another licensed vendor are also allowed to continue serving customers on-site with proper social distancing. The public health order lists all the requirements of establishments looking to stay open. 

Two weeks ago, Governor Polis acknowledged rising case counts in the region. "We're actually the only state in the pacific or mountain time zone that's seen a steady decline in cases," he said. That same day, bars that do not serve food in some capacity began the process of reopening. 

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On June 18, we spoke with two Denver bars, Roosevelt and Herb's, about the process of reopening. Following the Governor's latest announcement, we returned to ask how they feel about closing once again.

(Editor's note: Answers have been edited for context and clarity)

9NEWS: What was your reaction to the order announced Tuesday?

Laura Newman, Owner of Herb's: "I had a lot of mixed emotions. If closing the bar is the worst thing that happens to me today it's still a great day. If it helps, we'll do it. We're not doing a good job, so if this helps we'll do it."

Isaac Leon, Director of Operations for Roosevelt: "The first thing that went through my mind was, I have to call Greg who is the CEO of our business. We have to contact our employees, get everybody up to date because there are people who were prepared to come to work and really excited to come back to work. It's not the kind of news that you want to share."

How soon after you learned of the order did you close your doors?

Leon: I didn't quite catch the details of how the Governor detailed the rules of bars only but instead of trying to squeeze out every little penny, we want to show that we're part of the community. To a certain degree, every dollar counts but not really. Our business is down approximately 80% when you look at sales compared to before. We need to evaluate the value of 20%. It was best to say let's make it easy. No arguments just shut it down until further notice. 

Newman: Tonight, just tonight. Our staff will come down and have a drink together again because it will be at least a month before we get back to work. It's not just seeing each other, we like working together, everybody works well together. 

Armed with the knowledge you have now, what would you say to yourself two weeks ago as you were preparing to reopen?

Leon: It's tough because we were so analytical about making sure whatever move we made was not emotional but calculated. We understand that this is a day to day scenario. I wouldn't change anything we did but I'd tell myself, 'whatever plan you're going to go with, make sure you've covered every track on the way there because you could go through a massive expense thinking this situation will stay and then just like that it's taken away from you.' If I had to give advice to my younger self I'd say, 'stay the course, stay positive because the moment you start including doubt your plan goes straight down the toilet.'

Newman: Stay skeptical. 

How much money did you invest in reopening?

Leon: Thankfully, we didn't have to do too much here at Roosevelt. The biggest expenses were getting plastic cups, hand sanitizer, printouts with the rules. If I had to put a dollar value on it, I'd say over $1,000 over the last couple of weeks in terms of cleaning supplies, masks, laminating signs, and advertising to get the word out that we're open. You hope that you can recoup some of those expenses to try to catch up on losses.

Newman: It was somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000 to get COVID ready. I'm married to an aerospace engineer so we took this very seriously. We had tape measures out, signs up, I bought spray paint because the tape comes up but then we'd come out here and look down the block and it was mayhem. So, I guess our business isn't mature enough to handle this. 

Were you expecting an announcement like this?

Newman: I think I was pretty aware that it might not work. I was skeptical. This country is just not doing a good job at all. We aren't. The second week when I saw people still not taking it seriously, I lost hope. There was tension because we'd look down the street and see a lot of unmasked people and know they were coming here next. So, if this is the best thing than it's the best thing. 

How are your employees responding to the news?

Newman: It's your family and now we're separated again. Just to be in the trenches, working side by side again, you just miss it and you miss the people. I've broken more bread with these people than my real family.

Leon: I put out a big text to our entire staff. Collectively with the three companies, we probably have over 40 employees. I want to say that we maybe only lost 1%. Everybody wants to come back because not only was this a job for them but it's also part of their social life. They make their money and get to hang out with their family as well. That's a luxury. That's a gift.    

What's your plan between now and whenever you're allowed to reopen?

Leon: Everything is predicated on what the Governor says and what he allows us to do. We'll just have to wait and see. We can't come up with a plan when we don't know what the parameters are to come up with a plan. We're going to be ready to go. Everybody is excited to come back. In the meantime, it's just keeping our finger on the pulse with what the Governor says. The moment he says we're allowed to do this, we'll make a plan. 

In general, how are you feeling about your current situation and the future outlook?

Leon: It's really tough for everybody right now. We're all dealing with the same thing, we all have the same gripes but I really hope that everyone is being conscious of their health and the health of others by putting on their masks. I don't want to be closed anymore. This is miserable. It's miserable for my staff and it's stressful for my home life and my family. So, I need everybody to be on the same page. Wear your mask. Keep your hands clean. 

Newman: I don't have any control over any of this. I was in a really dark place when we first closed for about three weeks. It really stung and it really hurt. Then, I realized I have no control. I only have control over how I feel. From that point on, it's just get up and remember it's a great day.

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