Fort Collins businesses opening back up Friday won't look the same as they did 6 weeks ago
Hair salons, tattoo shops, dog grooming businesses, personal training and non-essential retail businesses will be allowed to reopen Friday as Larimer County and the state of Colorado transition into the next phase of safer-at-home.
It certainly won’t be business as usual, though.
Strict rules and guidelines are in place for those businesses that choose to reopen following forced closures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and many have spent the past week training staff, rearranging furniture and establishing new protocols to comply with county and state requirements and keep their employees and customers safe.
“Our No. 1 concern is that our staff is safe and that our guests feel safe,” said Sue Arens, part-owner of Studio Be Salon.
All retail businesses classified as non-essential that are reopening will be required to limit the number of people — employees and customers — inside their store or shop at any one time to 50% of the usual capacity. Employees and customers will all be required to wear cloth face coverings or surgical masks that cover their mouth and nose at all times.
Personal services businesses, including hair salons and tattoo shops, will be limited to a maximum of 10 people inside their facility at all times, said Katie O’Donnell, a spokeswoman for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.
Personal training classes can resume Friday, as well, but indoor classes must be limited to members of a single household or mixed groups of no more than four people while maintaining social distancing. Outdoor classes can have as many as 10 participants, provided social-distancing is maintained, O'Donnell said. No equipment can be shared.
Signs must be posted at the entrances warning people who feel ill to stay away. Employees and customers must practice social distancing and remain at least 6 feet away from each other as much as possible, under Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ statewide public health order and the county health department’s guidelines for individual businesses. The county health department and state regulatory agencies are responsible for enforcing the rules and have the authority to shut down businesses that do not comply, Polis said.
Larimer County plans to take an educational approach to the process, O’Donnell said, helping businesses that are not in compliance make whatever modifications are necessary to allow them to remain open. Only those businesses that are openly defiant of the state and county orders and refuse to comply will be fined and/or closed, she said.
“The thing for our businesses that have been closed is they’re coming in new to this game.” O’Donnell said. “They haven’t had to deal with the 6-foot markings on the floor and all the other changes that essential businesses have been doing. This is a very different process, and the guidance is very different from when they closed their doors six weeks ago.”
How salons, retail stores plan to open
For customers at Studio Be Salon’s two Fort Collins locations, in Old Town Square and Front Range Village, that new process will include a prescreening to keep those showing symptoms of any illness from entering the salon. Surgical masks or cloth face coverings will be required for both employees and customers, and capacity will be severely reduced, Arens said. Both locations will have only four stylists working at a time, compared with the 10 that could otherwise work in each of the approximately 2,500-square foot studios, and each will have just one customer instead of the two they could normally serve simultaneously.
Customers will be asked to wait in their vehicles or outside the salons for a phone call, text message or other notification from the receptionist that they can enter the salon.
Arens hopes the state will eventually modify capacity limits for salons and other personal services businesses based on the square footage of the facility. For now, though, the limit is 10, and Studio Be has planned accordingly.
“For us, that means four stylists, four guests, a receptionist who will help with check-in and check-out, and an apprentice who will help with the sanitation, keeping work areas clean and making sure everybody has what they need,” Arens said.
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Outpost Sunsport will limit the number of people inside its store at 931 E. Harmony Road at any one time to a maximum of 10 and will only be selling patio furniture, skis, bindings and other products that do not need to be tried on by customers, owner Randy Morgan said. Customers will not be able to try on or purchase ski or snowboard boots, goggles, gloves or clothing, he said.
“We are going to open on Friday, and we’ll be observing all of the state and county rules and regulations,” Morgan said.
Brown’s Shoe Fit remained open for curbside delivery throughout the stay-at-home order after receiving permission from the county health department to do so as an essential business providing job-specific footwear for essential workers, owner Greg Augustine said.
While curbside service and free local delivery will still be available and encouraged, those who choose to enter the store at The Square in midtown Fort Collins when it reopens Friday, he said, will see a business operating far differently than it did six weeks ago. Employees and customers will be required to wear masks, and customers will be confined to a specific area of the store, remaining at least 6 feet apart from each other and any employees, while staff members bring shoes to them to inspect and try on. He said he’ll limit the number of customers inside the store at any one time to 10 and he has taped lines 6 feet apart for customers to stand while they’re waiting to checkout. Social distancing will be practiced at the checkout stand, he said, with employees backing away while customers make their payments by debit or credit card without having to hand those cards to an employee.
“We’re kind of a hands-on, full-service, put-shoes-on-people’s-feet kind of business,” Augustine said. “There’s a lot of closeness usually while we inquire about foot problems and the needs and wants of our customers. We’re a lot more active with our customers than most stores, and we’ve had to really back off that. We’ll have to ask and answer questions and let the customers put the shoes on, as much as possible, without our help.”
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Augustine said he’s both excited and apprehensive about letting customers back inside the store after locking doors April 6 to protect his staff and customers while seeing daily increases in the number of reported coronavirus cases in Larimer County.
“We felt like we could control it more by just locking the doors, and we went to appointments after that for people who needed to come inside just so we could control the environment more,” he said.
Customers in at-risk groups or others who feel more comfortable entering the store when others are not there can still schedule appointments at Outpost Sunsport and Brown Shoe Fit, the owners said.
Goodwill is reopening its Fort Collins stores, along with four others in the region, to customers and to accept donations, a spokesman said in a news release. A limited number of customers will be allowed inside at any one time, traffic in shopping aisles will be one way, dressing rooms will be closed, shopping carts, countertops, tables and other high-touch surfaces will be disinfected frequently, and employees will be wearing personal protective equipment.
Donations of clothing, household items and other gently used goods will be accepted at the stores in Fort Collins, Greeley, Fort Morgan, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock. Goodwill is also accepting donations of non-perishable food, masks, scrubs, fabrics and cleaning supplies in partnership with the state’s Emergency Management Office, the news release said.
Some national retail chains will reopen locations in Larimer County and other Colorado counties that have not extended stay-at-home orders for curbside delivery Friday, and some local businesses are choosing to continue to operate that way, as well.
“It’s tough for us, because when you spend time in our store, you’re browsing,” said Rachel Becher, manager at Old Firehouse Books in Old Town Fort Collins. “You touch a lot of things. That makes it difficult as far as getting people in the store in limited quantities.”
The bookstore will begin offering curbside pickup and local delivery Friday, Becher said, and could begin allowing customers in the store again in June.
The limited capacity during the first phase of reopening non-essential businesses is a start, said Studio Be’s Arens. But it’s not sustainable long-term, she said. Her business and others need to get back to full capacity soon to cover their operating costs.
But they also know that reopening too quickly could cause a spike in the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, and force them to shut down again, too.
So even a limited reopening is welcome.
“My staff feels very comfortable with how we’re doing it, with everyone masked and social distancing,” Augustine said. “We’d love to be open again, and we’re excited to see the people that have been missing us. But I’m a little apprehensive about how we manage to help everybody in a way that we’re comfortable, they’re comfortable and we don’t have too many folks in the store at one time.”