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"Building community through collaboration:" Longmont businesses find opportunity despite COVID-19

Longmont Strongmont
Posted at 8:13 PM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 00:38:59-05

LONGMONT, Colo. — The coronavirus pandemic has impacted businesses across the country, but it's also sparked new ideas and opportunities.

In a December study, the Colorado Chamber of Commerce found about 33% of businesses say they’ve experienced a slight or moderate impact from COVID-19, and 11% reported a strong negative impact.

Still, Brian Lewandowski, the executive director of the Business Research Division at Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder, says data shows new entity filings in the last quarter of 2020 — in other words new businesses — increased by more than 22% compared to the same time in 2019. Entities in good standing also continued to rise.

For three businesses in Longmont, this extraordinary time has meant taking big leaps of faith while also proving the power of working together.

Rachel Hunter, the owner of A florae, primarily focused on wedding and event flowers before the pandemic postponed people's special days.

“The bulk of our business drastically declined, which is the wedding and event floral, but we had a very tiny retail shop in front of that space,” Hunter said.

Hunter decided to switch A florae’s focus to their 400 square foot retail space where they offer flower delivery, some clothing and indoor plant and home decor.

“We, of course, had more time on our hands to focus and market and highlight what the store can do,” Hunter said. “So, we started pushing that for people to get to know. Well, that actually grew by 107%.”

The owners of Kitchen Company decided to merge with their other business, Ace Hardware, which opened a prime time location in the heart of downtown Longmont. Hunter saw an opportunity to triple the A florae shop footprint, and the extra space would also give her plenty of room to add on something new.

Hunter knew she wanted to cater the basement space to young people, and she decided to make the space a thrift store called Archives.

A florae and Archives just opened their new doors in February.

“It is something I don't take very lightly, and not a lot of people have, not only the ability to still have their business in business, but the opportunity to grow it and the opportunity to grow into something that is a dream come true.”

Opening night at the new space also led to an opportunity with another local business. CYCLHOPS Bike CANtina, like so many, has seen the ups and downs of temporary closures, restrictions and making upgrades using a Colorado Restaurant Association grant.

“What are we going to do? Is this going to work? Can we stay open? Are we going to make it?,” owner Anita Gray said, recalling thoughts she had early on in the pandemic.

Gray had just taken sole ownership of the restaurant in January 2020. Through it all, CYCLHOPS made it work, even donating almost 2,000 meals to frontline workers, hospital workers and first responders. But as winter approached, Gray wondered what would happen.

“I thought, who was going to go sit outside in 20 degree weather and go out to eat? And Coloradans, you rock — they're so resilient," Gray said. "They came out, and some people were packing blankets and they said, ‘we're just gonna come out and support you, because we want you to still be here. We want you to still be here when all of this is over with.’”

In some ways, Gray was one of the lucky restaurant owners. As of October, around 1,500 restaurants in the state had closed, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association. Those numbers were before much of the state went to Level Red, which closed indoor dining.

Even with the community support, Gray was looking for another revenue stream to offset the impact of COVID-19. Turned out her old business partner had a food truck.

“It's just a really great collaboration with the community that, I think, we're able to do and I'm looking forward to doing more,” Gray said.

The business community is tight-knit in Longmont, so when Hunter heard about the new food truck, she invited Gray to make her debut at the A florae and Archives grand opening. Since that firs night, Gray has been working with some breweries to offer food, and she hopes it will be an option for people who aren't comfortable dining inside.

“We've always believed in building community through collaboration,” said Mike Murfitt, co-owner of Traction Coffee Roasters.

While Gray was trying to decide if she should move forward with the CYCLHOPS food truck, a conversation with Murfitt, a longtime friend, sparked the idea to offer breakfast tacos and coffee.

“We just kind of got to talking back and forth of, you know, maybe breakfast tacos would be cool," Murfitt said, "and she's like, ‘oh, well, I think I could get us a food truck.”

The conversation gave Gray the extra confidence to buy the food truck, and the Cyclhops and Traction partnership was born.

But Traction has even bigger plans for their coffee. They’ve already moved their roasting operation from Lyons to Longmont, with plans to open a cafe.

“That was supposed to be open by April-ish last year. But, as we know, COVID kind of took over, and opening a business where we serve people in that time was just not going to happen. So, that is still on the books as things kind of level out," Murfitt said. “It's exciting to see that there are still possibilities in the midst of like the most crazy time most of us have ever experienced in our lives.”

The opportunity to start something new is not something these Longmont business owners take lightly. With the beginning of the end of the pandemic in sight, they’re hopeful the new ideas sparked during this time will continue to shine.

“Anything is possible when everything feels scary,” Hunter said.