Local businesses make "tough" decisions in coronavirus' wake

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The Metropolitan Downtown owner Sam Galeotos, left, and manager Matt Galeotos pose for a photo inside the restaurant Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in downtown Cheyenne. The Met recently reduced the number of staff because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 virus. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The arrival of coronavirus in the U.S. has brought troubling times for business owners across the country, and businesses in Laramie County aren’t immune from the impact.

On Sunday, the Paramount Cafe and Ballroom announced a temporary closure to help mitigate the virus’ spread. On Monday, the Cadillac Ranch bar announced it would be closing, as well, due to health concerns and concerns for local first responders.

The Metropolitan also announced Monday that 46 staff members would be laid off immediately due to a slowdown in business that is expected to continue as the virus spreads.

But even in the midst of uncertainty, the local business community is sticking together and bracing for impact.

“We have to support each other and take care of each other,” Paramount owner Jon Jelinek said.

Though the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce has canceled its upcoming events, it is still open for business for any local owners who need assistance. In an email to members, chamber CEO Dale Steenbergen wrote, “Your Chamber is committed to providing you the latest information and resources from reliable sources to navigate the virus and the economic challenges associated with it. ... If you need anything, call us.”

Still, businesses in town have to answer to their bottom lines.

Astrid, owner of the Plains Hotel, announced that they would be closing their doors until May 1 due to the slowdown in the tourism industry. At the beginning of March, when business normally picks back up, Astrid said her revenue dropped off a cliff.

Deciding how best to proceed was choosing between “a rock and a hard place,” Astrid said.

Around 30 employees at the hotel will be out of work due to the closure, and the team will be noticeably smaller when they reopen. Instead of functioning as normal upon reopening, Astrid said they’ll provide low-cost, extended stays for health care workers and anyone who was displaced by the impact of the virus.

“We’re gonna come around and support everybody that’s hit in every which way we can,” Astrid said.

Having opened his restaurant and bar just nine months ago, Metropolitan owner Sam Galeotos said the decision to lay off the majority of their employees was “out of (their) control.” Dropping from 53 employees, the Metropolitan will now function with just seven.

“It was very clear to us that we were going to end up sending people home every day or not scheduling them at all,” Galeotos said. “If we kept employees hanging out there, they’d have no opportunity to explore unemployment or other government benefits.”

For Jessica Espinoza, a bartender and shift manager who was laid off from the Metropolitan, the whole situation was “pretty heartbreaking,” though she understands why it had to happen.

At a morning meeting with management, Espinoza said there were a lot of tears, but the bond between the employees remained strong. She said a group of former staff all drove to the unemployment office together to try to get assistance.

“It is really terrifying seeing how fragile everything really is when we were living like normal two weeks ago,” Espinoza said.

Galeotos also pointed to the national trend of local governments closing all businesses to patrons. As of Tuesday morning, all restaurants and bars in Denver were closed to in-store customers at the request of Mayor Michael Hancock. Teton County also announced Tuesday that all non-essential businesses would be closed due to the spread of the virus.

If the situation in the city and county changed to that degree, Mayor Marian Orr said the decision on local businesses would be made in conjunction with the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department and the Cheyenne City Council.

For the time being, however, business owners will decide on their own how to proceed.

When the owners of the Paramount were coming to their decision to close up shop, they decided it was best to “air on the side of caution.”

“One of the biggest things we looked at is the research about slowing the curve so that it doesn’t become a bigger problem for everyone,” Jelinek said. “It’s a tough decision for any business to make.”

While closed, Paramount employees will continue to work, cleaning the facilities and completing training so the cafe and ballroom can open better than they were before. Closing their doors allows the business to allocate money they would’ve spent on productions costs to supporting employees.

“We want all these employees when we come back,” Jelinek said. “We have to take care of them. It’s our responsibility to take care of them.”

As of Monday at Wyoming’s Rib and Chop House, servers can deliver food as delivery orders ramp up and in-house service slows down to help bolster their paychecks.

“We understand with the business decline, our servers are going to feel it,” general manager CJ Kopack said.

Cadillac Ranch also announced that it would be closing the doors, but company President Kevin Beers said in a statement that he would make sure staff will continue receiving paychecks “for at least this next month.”

Other businesses, like Blossom Yoga and Arena Training Institute, have started offering some at-home workouts for their clients. While Arena Training Institute owner Janelle Mellish said they are continuing to offer classes, they’ve taken extra precautions with cleaning and social distancing.

Though Arena has seen a decline in business, Mellish said the sense of community offered by the gym has been the most important aspect to carry on. Through social media and online communications, the women who train at Arena are continuing to support each other.

“It’s changing the way we look at being part of a community right now,” Mellish said. “People still need that.”

One way a number of businesses said residents can continue to support them is buying gift cards online as their stores are closed. That way, they still have some revenue coming in while closed, and residents will be able to enjoy the same services once the businesses reopen.

While a number of businesses in retail and hospitality are struggling, the virus has caused an increased demand for delivery drivers and stockroom employees. Safeway and Albertsons announced they are seeking to fill a number of positions in the region to meet the demand.

“We routinely have job openings, but in light of the increasing needs in the community, we have hundreds of new openings for all positions in all of our stores in the region. If someone has had their employment impacted, we are offering permanent or temporary employment to help bridge the gap,” communications and public affairs manager Heather Halpape said in an email.

To help out local businesses that are struggling, in classic Cheyenne fashion, a number of local groups have found ways to continue providing support. Upon canceling their weekly lunches at Little America Hotel and Resort, the Cheyenne Rotary Club stepped up to donate $2,000, their monthly “lunch money,” to the banquet employees they see every week.

“We see the same faces and the same staff, and we know them by name. They’ve just been delightful,” Cheyenne Rotary Club President Robin Sims said. “It’s one way that we can help the people who are living paycheck to paycheck and are most impacted.”

Local banks are also stepping up to give a little more wiggle room to those hit hard by the coronavirus’ impact. According to Mayor Orr, more than one local bank is looking at extending term loans, which means residents who can’t immediately pay their home or car loan will have more time and leeway.

“What I’d really encourage the public to do is talk to their lenders if they’ve suddenly been laid off or if they’re experiencing health care costs that are burdensome,” Orr said. “Our local partners are just so incredibly responsive, and it really goes a long to way making sure this time isn’t as devastating as it could be.”

WTE photographer/videographer Nadav Soroker contributed to this report.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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