Displaced workers share their experience amid COVID-19 crisis

Allie Freismuth with Horsefly Brewery waits to give a customer an order on Thursday. 

The Vine Market and Bistro restaurant in Montrose usually experienced heavy traffic during their business hours. The lobby was vibrant and customers packed together to enjoy a casual meal.

After Gov. Jared Polis announced the shutdown and closure of restaurants, bars, gyms, and theatres, it all changed.

“The lobby was open for the first couple of days, but no one was coming in,” Tyler Gallegos said. “We lost 80 to 90 percent of our business. There was one ticket every hour, so pretty much just $20 an hour.”

Gallegos was a line cook on weekdays at the Bistro. After the announcement, his hours were cut, and now his immediate future is uncertain.

“I’m trying to find a new job here soon. The chances of finding a new job right now are pretty slim, though,” he said.

Gallegos is one of the thousands of employees in Colorado who are either unemployed or working fewer hours. The Colorado Sun has been tracking unemployment claims since Polis’s announcement. As of Friday afternoon, there were around 31,000 claims, including 10,000 on Wednesday alone.

The severity of COVID-19 in Colorado and the surrounding states isn’t fully known yet. The future of many businesses hangs in the balance over the next few weeks. That uncertainty extends to laid-off employees who now may have no means to pay their bills and/or rent.

“We might have to buy food for each other and stock up on some supplies,” Gallegos said. “Or shelter at a family member’s house. There could be a suspension of rent. The [landlords] were very vague about it.”

Thankfully for Gallegos and many others, help may be on the way for those worried financially. Polis on Friday asked property owners to refrain from implementing late fees on tenants until April 30. Polis requested that evictions take a back seat for people who can’t afford to pay and that utilities should give customers a leash if they are struggling to pay their bills due to COVID-19. Xcel Energy and Denver Water have already implemented the leash before the announcement.

“I was thrilled that the federal government is suspending all foreclosures and evictions for 60 days for homeowners that have mortgages that are insured by the federal housing administration,” Polis said. “Furthermore, this allows those impacted by coronavirus to suspend mortgage payments due to hardships for up to 12 months.

“We can’t ask people to stay at home to stop the spread of coronavirus if we are not giving them tools to keep their homes,” he added.

The Small Business Association (SBA) is offering low-interest federal disaster loans to small businesses in Colorado suffering financially from the shutdowns. The loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, and other bills that can not be paid due to the pandemic. In turn, this may allow those businesses to keep their employees on the payroll as they ride out the financial hit they are facing. The declaration applies to all 64 Colorado counties.

“We are all concerned about the pressures our small businesses are facing in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. The SBA Colorado District Office stands ready to assist our small business owners by providing the assistance needed to confront this challenge,” said SBA Colorado District Director Frances Padilla. “I appreciate the tremendous support our agency is receiving from the state, our resource partners, local elected officials, chambers of commerce, and community leaders. This collaboration will continue for as long as critical resources are necessary.”

Still, the swift impact wasn’t forgotten by Gallegos.

“Some people I’ve never seen shaken up in my life before are being shaken up right now,” he said. “I've asked my coworkers in the restaurant and they've never seen anything like this.”

Montrose resident Cayden James works for Deveney and James Custom Builders LLC in Telluride doing carpentry. After Telluride was shut down, he too was left with unanswered questions.

“I’m losing quite a bit of money,” James said. “I don’t get to work until next Monday. Originally it was projected to last two weeks.

“I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes. I’m not really sure how the future looks now.”

James received some help from his boss, who allowed him to come back in on Monday for some hours. With every situation fluid, however, that’s subject to change.

Brian and Genny Gregg, owners of Colorado West Property Management in Montrose, plan to honor Polis’s recommendation.

“We’re going to do what the governor has requested, and late fees will be postponed until April 30,” Genny said.

A few tenants and homeowners have already contacted the Greggs regarding the news.

The unemployed may feel the fallout in the weeks ahead, but there is hope in securing another position.

Domino’s and Papa John’s have boosted their hiring due to the crisis, hoping to keep up with delivery demand as many have turned to take-out since the shutdown began.

It’s possible in the weeks ahead that if small businesses begin to work their way back, employees are welcomed back or find a new landing spot. For now, the situation is extremely fluid.

Even though he expects an uncertain few weeks, Gallegos shared a strong message of his own.

“I wish people were calmer and more unified,” he said. “Realize you have neighbors around you. It works a lot better if we’re on the same page and working with each other.”

James, too, remains optimistic.

“My landlord said to let her know what the financial situation is like,” he said. “Honestly I think I'll be fine. It sucks, but I think I'll be fine.”


If you are a small business owner and wish to apply for a disaster loan or receive more information, visit https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955.

Resources for displaced workers include heading to colorado.gov to file a claim, find more information, and learn more about eligibility. Search for a job at connectingcolorado.com.

Coloradans who are uninsured or will lose health insurance due to COVID-19 can sign up for a special enrollment plan through Connect Health for Colorado that started March 20 and ends Friday, April 3. Visit ConnectforHealthCO.com or speak with a certified enrollment expert over the phone at 855-752-6749, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customer service center hours will be extended this weekend and next, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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