No shirt, no shoes — no mask? — no service

Ouray County business owners discuss how they can reopen under Colorado's new guidelines, and what they're going to require from customers to ensure safety.

Mountain Fever co-owner Bruce Gulde discusses the expectations for shoppers at his store in Ouray, which sells everything from T-shirts to other souvenirs. Gulde and his wife, Tamara, decided to reopen the shop with rules, including one requiring shoppers to wear masks and distance themselves in the store.
Mountain Fever co-owner Bruce Gulde discusses the expectations for shoppers at his store in Ouray, which sells everything from T-shirts to other souvenirs. Gulde and his wife, Tamara, decided to reopen the shop with rules, including one requiring shoppers to wear masks and distance themselves in the store. (Photo by Mike Wiggins/Ouray County Plaindealer)

OURAY – For the last couple of weeks, the mannequin in the window of Mountain Fever Shirts & Gifts has sported attire befitting the season: fleece jacket, ski cap, sunglasses — and a polka-dot face mask.

“Don’t be a dummy!” co-owner Bruce Gulde posted on social media. “Even the window mannequin at Mountain Fever Shirts & Gifts believes social spacing and face masks help prevent the spread of virus.”

If people hope to shop at Mountain Fever, they’ll need to follow the mannequin’s lead.

Starting Friday, when the Ouray retailer reopens its doors, an employee will be standing at the entrance, ready to welcome customers with hand sanitizer and a non-negotiable requirement: Put on a mask if you want to cross the threshold.

As retail shop owners begin to illuminate open signs that have been dark for weeks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are doing so with a bevy of precautions, knowing the potential for the contagion to spread remains high.

“We don’t mean to be that restrictive, and we don’t want to be mean, and we hope people are respectful. But the reality is it’s our store, and we don’t have to do business with people who are being irresponsible,” said Tamara Gulde.

Members of Ouray County’s Unified Command and the health department are hosting virtual meetings in the coming days with different sectors of the economy to discuss best practices for reopening and to help businesses navigate the massive gray area between being closed and fully reopened as normal.

The Guldes have spent the last several days cleaning and reorganizing the store, removing a few tables and displays to allow for better spacing between customers. Only 10 people will be allowed in the store at a time, total. During peak tourist season, it’s not unusual for 30 to 40 people to be in the store at once.

They’ll post signs around the shop asking shoppers to maintain 6 feet of separation and showing them where to stand in line and to check out. They’re considering placing tape on the floor to establish a one-way traffic pattern.

Tamara Gulde said she and Bruce will not require their nine employees to show up for work.

“They are free to not be there, and we totally support them in their health;” she said.

She said she is concerned about how some customers might react to the standards and restrictions, noting that she knows of people from Montrose, Grand Junction and Denver who came to visit Ouray in violation of the state’s stay-at-home order.

“I appreciate people want to go back to work, but until they have someone who dies (from the virus), they don’t get it,” she said.

Amy Exstrum, who owns Ouray Bookshop with her husband, Brian, said they plan to open to customers Friday but with precautions in place. Staff will ask patrons to use hand sanitizer when they enter the store, and she plans on ordering more from a distillery. She also plans on sanitizing the counter and credit-card machine between customers.

Exstrum plans on a limit of six customers at a time inside the store to allow for safe distancing, and will request that customers wear masks. She’s also continuing to offer online ordering, delivery and curbside pickup for customers who don’t want to enter the store.
The bookstore has taken a financial hit during the pandemic, and Exstrum said sales have been roughly 25 percent of what she was expecting prior to COVID-19 for this time of year, on top of reduced sales due to the shoulder season. Like some other retailers in Ouray, the book shop also placed orders for all of its summer inventory, and needed to pay those vendors as it experienced dwindling revenues.
As are other retailers, the Exstrums are hoping summer sales will help boost their revenues and that there’s a way to safely allow visitors to shop.

Michelle Poirier, owner of The Blue Pear and Bloom Modern Mercantile at 645 Main St., will not reopen immediately. She will continue to offer online sales, curbside pickup and delivery, and in-store shopping by appointment. But she doesn’t anticipate reopening until May 15 because of the type of products and experience she offers.

“I’ve tried to create the whole hosting experience where you’re smelling and you’re touching and there’s all the sensory overload going on,” she said. “I want people to touch and feel and spray and try on. I’m trying to wrap my head around what that’s going to look like.”
She knows she might lose out on the bump in sales that comes with Mother’s Day, but hopes to compensate for that through online traffic and prearranged in-store visits. The additional two weeks before she opens will allow her to observe how other retailers are handling things and give her time to make her own adjustments.

That means employees will monitor body products and dispense items like perfume and beard lotion onto sample sticks for customers to try to avoid direct contact with the products.

Poirier said she will require people to wear masks, offer hand sanitizer at the door and install some sort of physical barrier at the entrance to encourage patrons to pause before entering to ensure the store isn’t too crowded.

“I feel I have a responsibility to myself and the community and even my employees,” she said. “The gals that work for me, they don’t want to get sick, and a couple of them are very vulnerable if they were to get sick. They’re like my family, and I’m not willing to risk their health.”

Red Mountain Trading Post owner Ron Hall said he plans to stay closed until August and will stay put in St. Paul, Minnesota, until he feels it’s safe to travel. He said he’s going to be patient and see what unfolds in the coming months, “and will remain closed until I can be reasonably sure I can competently keep my focus on your safety, happiness, and ability to get by. If you know me, you know I have a money-be-damned attitude towards business,” he wrote on the store’s social media page. Hall recognizes he’s in a different financial situation than some, as he owns the store building and his mother ran the shop for more than 60 years before he took it over.
“I didn’t cash in everything I own to go buy a shop in Colorado,” he said, adding that he runs the business more as a community service than a financial enterprise.

Hall advised customers that when he reopens, he’ll have some new rules in place for shoppers, “but nothing that doesn’t make sense.”
“All will still be welcome, but I will protect my customers and my community,” he said.

It’s up to individual stores and their owners as to whether they want to take on the risk of opening, which is something County Commissioner Don Batchelder pointed out in a meeting Friday to discuss rescinding public health orders and allowing businesses to reopen. He said it’s largely up to the business owners to act responsibly and determine what they can handle.

“To the degree that the allowance is there to open does not necessarily mean that businesses have to open, nor does it mean that the government is responsible for providing everything they need to open,” he said, adding that enforcement is largely based on the businesses taking responsibility for themselves and for others to report issues they encounter.

“The county has abilities to restrict and/or allow things, but the county does not have the ability necessarily to watch you in a Big Brother fashion,” he said.

Gov. Jared Polis also said if stores aren’t acting responsibly and establishing protocols for reopening, there could be repercussions, including loss of business licenses. The state’s “safer at home” phase requires strict enforcement to ensure the progress made isn’t lost. He encouraged people to report complaints to the state attorney general’s office and local public health authorities.

“We know that the people of Colorado will tell us if there’s a store that’s not social distancing,” Polis said Monday. “The state will also make sure that they’re not contributing to a public health outbreak that’s costing Colorado lives.”

Originally posted by Mike Wiggins and Erin McIntyre in The Ouray County Plaindealer on May 4, 2020.