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Despite pandemic challenges, some businesses still opening, expanding in Garfield County

From left, Max, Erin, Laney and Ben Reinhart, from Seymour, Indiana, enjoy some ice cream at Sundae. Zac Pidcock prepares a cone behind the counter.
Charlie Wertheim

During a period of economic uncertainty when businesses were laying off employees and the future was a big question mark, some entrepreneurs were brave enough to try to get a new enterprise off the ground.

For Valley Fuel and Sundae ice cream shop in Glenwood Springs, opening in June was neither despite nor because of the coronavirus — rather, it was more of a coincidence.

“When the pandemic hit in March we were actually very close to being able to open, so when we got the green light from our buildout team we decided to just go for it,” Sundae assistant manager Molly LaBrecque said. 

In June 1 the Glenwood shop — at 723 Grand Ave. — joined Sundae shops in Vail and Edwards providing a food that may be crisis proof. 

“Everybody loves ice cream no matter what’s going on in the world,” LaBrecque said.

For Heather Hill, opening Valley Fuel at 1304 Grand Ave. had been a project in the works for two years, and she just happened to be ready to open June 11.

“It definitely wasn’t ideal, but it’s ‘now or never,’” she said of her feelings at the time.

Eventually, she plans to base her other business, Valley Taxi, out of the gas station.

New Castle Physical Therapy opened on Aug. 10 specifically because of the pandemic.

“We were planning on starting our own business at the end of this year, but we lost our jobs due to COVID in late March and could find no more work. Rather than stay on unemployment for a long time due to no available jobs, we decided to be proactive and create our own,” Nick Peterson said in an email. Peterson co-owns the business with wife Sarah at 6420 County Road 335 Unit B.

How’s business?

At Sundae, business has been booming with a cherry on top.

“We have had a very surprising and busy year, and our Glenwood store especially exceeded our expectations of what we would open up to,” LaBrecque said. “We didn’t set our expectations as high as we would normally, but we did about the same amount of business as we would have expected without it being a COVID year.”

LaBrecque expects business to get better after the pandemic, especially when employees can offer samples to customers again.

“If we can have such a successful first summer with COVID-19 and all the regulations that we’re adhering to, without any of that we’ll succeed far more than we can imagine currently,” she said.

Growth has been slow at New Castle Physical Therapy.

“The progress has been slow, but the business is slowly growing despite startup during COVID in a small town to which we’re new,” Peterson said.

He believes business will improve after the pandemic.

“It’s hard to know how many people are holding off on getting treatment for pain or injuries at this time due to anxiety over COVID. We do offer Telehealth options, but many people may be unaware of that. Personally, I believe business will rebound post COVID. I know many are still anxious about the virus,” Peterson said.

From left, Jim Sandretto, Mike Murphy, Heather Hill and Christine Guire pose at Valley Fuel, the future headquarters of Valley Taxi.
Charlie Wertheim

Hill is not quite ready to call her new business (she has owned Valley Taxi since 2015) a success, though things have been picking up since July.

“We’re getting there. With all the construction and everything we’ve had to do it’s been hard to tell. We haven’t really had the tourists we normally get for the taxi or the gas station so that’s made it extremely difficult to be successful,” she said. “It was very hard to get through COVID, especially March, April, May and into June, then things started opening up a little bit.”

Valley Taxi was mandated to stay open to provide medical transport — which Hill said is 80% of her business — but she lost some taxi service to people opting to use Telehealth instead.

Her sales have increased fivefold since opening, and she’s confident business will continue to increase.

“We will eventually have a food truck or two there on the lot to draw people in,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure we have everything that everybody could possibly need without having the convenience store.”

Filling a niche

Part of being a successful business is filling a niche, and Valley Fuel has a claim to fame.

“We’re the only gas station in the state to offer all nonethanol fuel,” Hill said.

She said her gas is a little more expensive, but cars get better gas mileage and run cleaner. Valley Fuel also sells leaded race fuel, Sunoco 110, which is about $12 a gallon.

“Most of the toys that take this type of fuel don’t take a lot of it,” Hill said, so sales are fairly low.

The Petersons at New Castle Physical Therapy are fairly specific in the types of people they treat.

“I’m specializing in working with strength and outdoor athletes/enthusiasts primarily. My wife is catering primarily to runners. That being said, we work with a wide range of people from the community,” Nick Peterson said.

Sundae is one of several ice cream shops in Glenwood.

“Our brand is all about small batch artisan ice cream. We make everything in house,” LaBrecque said as how Sundae’s offerings stand out from the competition.

Hiring employees

While some local businesses complained of having trouble finding employees during the pandemic, Sundae didn’t have to do much recruiting and got a lot of interest from social media.

“For is it was quite easy. We were fortunate to have a massive interest from the work force early on,”  LaBrecque said.

Hill said Valley Fuel is operated as an unmanned gas station — which is permissible only if an emergency phone is accessible to customers — so needed no employees there.

At Valley Taxi she had to lay off employees as the pandemic limited her customer base.

The Petersons have no employees other than themselves.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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