Once again, the state has shut down nonessential businesses to stem an outbreak of COVID-19, but small companies are taking the biggest hit.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a 14-day lockdown, stay-at-home order that went into effect Monday (Nov. 16) and both the town of Taos and Taos County announced new temporary closures.
Much like in March, restaurants cannot hold any on-site dining, and businesses like salons, gyms and ski areas were forced to shut their doors to the public until at least Nov. 30. The governor enacted the shutdown due to a surge in COVID cases that is larger than the state has seen since the pandemic began.
"The frustrating thing is that we had just kind of begun to get some momentum," said Pam Guyer, co-owner of Taos Spa. Guyer said that she is discouraged by the whole situation, and said that she doesn't think Taos Spa is part of the problem.
"I think that the problem is a lot of people who refuse to wear masks," she said.
Guyer expressed frustration with the new shutdown orders, noting, "The mask law or mandate needs to be enforced instead of shutting down businesses for whatever reason they think we're high risk. I do not think this measure is going to cause the cases to go down."
Meanwhile, Jason Wylie, co-founder of Taos Mesa Brewing, said that they are handling it as best as they can. "We believe that Taos' best interest, as well as [that of] our staff, is to try to clamp down and see what we can do," said Wylie. "It certainly hurts us economically, but I think it's a small price to pay versus putting the public health at risk."
Like Guyer, Wylie blamed the increase in cases on what he sees as a lack of social awareness and adherence to guidelines. " I think it's kind of selfish on the part of some Americans to think that it doesn't pertain to them when in reality we all breathe the same air," he said.
Another Taos business that took a major hit was the Storyteller 7, part of the Mitchell Movie Theatre franchise. Manager Terry Boetcher said that they closed the day before the governor's original March health order due to declining businesses. "There was no reason to continue running the business because we just didn't know what the virus was going to do, so we just closed," he said.
Despite not being able to open, Boetcher said that they had been successful selling concessions on the weekends, but now they have to stop. He said that he feels they are ready to open when allowed, and that their limited capacity and good air circulation will be a virus-free environment.
Dianna Sakai, co-owner of the coffee shop and eatery KOKO on Paseo del Pueblo Sur, said that even though she was able to keep the café open during COVID by providing online ordering and curb service, this time is different.
"The difference between then and now is that there are a lot higher numbers of COVID positives right now and it's surging in Taos in a way it didn't in the spring," she said. Sakai hopes that they are able to open for some kind of service, whether curbside or counter service, starting Dec. 1.
Although all the businesses are still hanging on, they all worry about the future, and the possibility of a longer shutdown. "Anybody that's in the hospitality industry is facing a near-extinction event at this point," said Wylie. "If we can't get our leaders to figure out how to help their constituents, then we're going to be in for a real rude awakening in six or eight months," he added.
A hit on town finances
Town of Taos Manager Rick Bellis also noted that this shutdown will be tougher than last time.
"This current round of closures is problematic," he said in an email. "Businesses that adapted and rode it out might not survive if the full closure stays in place through the holidays or the ski season is canceled and the tourists don't come." Bellis said he worried about the financial future of the town and its local businesses, as he said the town anticipates the current round of closures to continue through January.
Bellis also said that the town was "sliding down to hitting the projected 20 percent shortfall for the first time, which is roughly a loss of $2 million in revenues per year." He said that from a financial standpoint, they are more concerned "about the long-term impact on many of our local businesses that provide entertainment and a quality of life for locals." He pointed out that what the town and state really need is assistance from the federal government.
The new state health restrictions require all nonessential businesses to close down until Nov. 30 and "essential" businesses will be limited to 25 percent capacity or 75 customers, whichever is fewer. Additionally, all businesses must close by 10 p.m.
On Nov. 30, the governor plans on addressing openings on a county-by-county basis.
There are three levels to reopening that will be used to judge each county. The three levels are: Level 1 - or Green - where low positivity rates and daily case counts allow for a gradual opening; Level 2 - or Yellow - with borderline positivity rates and "some" restrictions; and Level 3 - or Red - where widespread infection would require "onerous" restrictions.
Until then, the town closed all public buildings Monday (Nov. 16). The following town facilities will be closed until Nov. 30: Taos Library, Taos Youth and Family Center, Town Hall Lobby, all town parks and all town buildings. Along with closings from the town, the Regional Transit District Blue Bus will also be halting operations until further notice.
Taos County buildings - including community centers, senior centers and Filemon Sanchez Park - will be closed to the public. The assessor's office and planning office will be open to "title companies, financial institutions and the construction industry by appointment only if we cannot service them electronically," said a press release from the county. They also said they will be working to develop contactless drop boxes "if constituents cannot work through email."
Along with the localities listed above, the following state agencies are also closed through Nov. 30: All taxation and revenue offices and all motor vehicle division offices.
According to a press release from the town, "all emergency services will remain fully staffed and available 24/7 and all other town departments and services will continue to remain accessible to the public during normal work days and hours by phone, mail or email. Utility payments can be made online or by phone. Requests for records can be made through the town's website or by calling the clerk's office."
However, due to a reduction in staff for safety reasons, the town said to expect public service phone lines to "be busier and response times for some offices may be longer than normal. If you are unable to get an answer, please leave a message or email us."
Go to taoscounty.org.
Assistant editor John Miller contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect title for town manager Rick Bellis.