Cha Cha

A “closed” sign hangs on the door of Cha Cha, an art gallery on East Hyman Avenue, earlier this week.

The city of Aspen is providing information to its 863 licensed businesses — a packet that lists near- and long-term resources to assist in the financial hardship brought by the commercial shutdown caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are working on making sure that everyone who has a business inside the city limits is aware of the resources,” said City Manager Sara Ott.

The eight-page packet includes links to state assistance programs, information about small business loans and a template for communicating safety measures to customers.

Ott said the city is committed to continuing to update local businesses as more information about resources becomes available. A $2 trillion stimulus package is making progress in Congress but it is not clear how individual municipalities would benefit.  

“This is the first of resources, it’s not the end-all,” Ott said of the new packet.

Ott has created a team to design an economic strategy moving forward. It includes herself; Phillip Supino, director of community development; Mitch Osur, director of parking and downtown services; and special projects manager Ron LeBlanc.

The team will consider input from the business community. In order to gather that feedback, each of the five city councilmembers will act as a liaison for certain industry sectors. Business owners can reach out to councilmembers via phone or email, and the city is working to create virtual town halls by sector to gather more input.

Mayor Torre, who is taking the lead for restaurant, food service and transportation, said collecting data and having one-on-one conversations directly with the people who are experiencing hardships will be essential in informing the strategy.

“Our businesses are run and staffed by those who make up the fabric of our community and they are critically important to us,” he said.

In the short term, the city is considering waiving late fees for April’s sales tax reporting. However, Ott cautioned councilmembers on Tuesday night from rushing into knee-jerk bailouts, as the city’s general fund and any future subsidies that can be provided to businesses rely on sales tax collections.

“Our local economy has already been impacted, so let’s support each other, be kind and together look for creative ways to provide high quality services throughout this uncertain time,” the resource packet states.

Businesses in Pitkin County are eligible for funding from the Small Business Association’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program because neighboring Eagle County was declared a disaster by Gov. Jared Polis, which makes surrounding counties eligible for relief.

The support packet strongly encourages business owners to be documenting expenses and losses during this time so that their paperwork is completely in order and they can quickly file for benefits as government programs are established.

The packet also works to ensure that employees of local businesses are supported. There is information about applying for unemployment or workshare programs. It is also stressed that workplaces need to be kept hygienic — sick employees should not be going into work.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association also is working closely with the city to support local businesses. It is likely that the economic impact will last beyond the coronavirus spike. The area’s largest employer, Aspen Skiing Company, was ordered to shutter operations a month before its planned closing days. Entertainment facilities such as Belly Up Aspen and the Wheeler Opera House were ordered to suspend all programming to comply with size limits on public congregation.

Area nonprofits have taken a hit. Challenge Aspen and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies have both canceled their remaining programming for the season. This week, the city’s two largest conferences, the Food and Wine Classic and the Aspen Ideas Festival, both of which were set for June, were canceled.

Additionally, the latest public health order issued by Pitkin County has closed all lodges and requested tourists to leave the area. The city’s general fund, Kids First child care program and the parks budget all rely on businesses being open and locals and visitors being able to spend money on goods and services. Early calculations show a multimillion-dollar loss in sales tax revenue for 2020.

“We know that COVID-19 is affecting Aspen businesses across all sectors,” the resource packet states. “The impacts from COVID-19 may have a lasting economic impact on your business.”

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.