Small business coalition begins to take shape
Last updated 9/23/2020 at 1:34pm
The chiropractor's office was filled with tears one recent evening, but it wasn't from physical pain. People from all walks of life had gathered to share their experiences of how the COVID-19 shutdowns this year had affected their lives.
Some told of life savings disappearing as their business doors shut. Others vented about how their children had been robbed of hard-earned athletic milestones their senior year.
"This whole thing - it's devastating our kids, it's devastating our business," said Shawndel Sievert, a Widefield resident who had been operating the Colorado Honey Lady shop in downtown Colorado Springs until the "nonessential" business shutdown - followed by a summer of riots and protests - created a situation where her shop could no longer function.
"I'm done. I'm so done," she said.
Sievert was one of several residents and business owners who attended the inaugural meeting of the El Paso County Small Business Defense Coalition, which aims to develop power in numbers and prepare for any future attempts at another shutdown.
The first meeting, which was intended to be a brainstorming session at the office of Fountain Chiropractic and Wellness Center, ended up being more like group therapy, as attendees vented about the financial and emotional impact this year has had on them and their families.
Chiropractor Dr. Jarod Waters and his wife, Rachael, hosted the session. They said their business, although thriving now, also was affected by the forced closures this spring. They lost several weeks' worth of business, which meant their employees were out of work too. They are forming this coalition to try to develop a partnership among like-minded business owners should a similar situation arise. They've been visiting businesses in the Fountain Valley area and other venues to spread the word about this movement.
"People were really receptive and excited about starting something like this locally," Rachael Waters said.
Some of the attendees noted they had personally known of situations where business owners committed suicide here in Colorado because of the burden of the shutdown. Although many restrictions have been lifted, the state and its counties continue to enforce various degrees of capacity limits and such, causing many businesses to not be able to operate the way they are intended to.
"They've got to reopen," one man said. "We've got people with their life savings in these small businesses. ... You see areas where the suicide rate outweighs the COVID rate."
Another woman in attendance said she has been homeless recently. Her home-based business didn't qualify for any assistance. But at the end of the day, her overriding concern was for the children of the community and how they have had to put their childhood on pause and give up athletic dreams.
"I want my kids to have a better America," she said. "That's why I'm here."
Gary and Leslie Louzon-Keller, who operate Tumbleweed Country Kennels, said they were having a pretty good year, "completely booked for Spring Break and the Fourth of July" when COVID-19 restrictions took effect. Suddenly, people canceled trips, and business tanked.
Their saving grace was a contract in place with Fort Carson to provide boarding services, but the government would not let them groom the very same animals already in their care because that particular activity was not permitted under the mandate. Pet boarding was deemed essential but grooming was not, so that portion had to shut down.
Rachael Waters said the coalition is looking to enlist the help of an attorney, as well as input from any local parties who are interested in becoming involved.
"We are a group of local, small business owners and supporters," she said. "We believe in the right to work, the right to serve our community, and the right to support our families. We are ready to defend these rights. Join us as we pool resources and ideas and work together to secure our future rights to remain open."
The new group will continue organization and mobilization to secure and protect rights to remain open, she added.
To sign up for updates and see upcoming meeting locations, visit openourbusiness.org. The next meeting is Sunday, Sept. 27, at 6:30 p.m. at Second Chance Home Furnishings & Decor, 660 S. Santa Fe Ave., Fountain.