Loyal customer stronghold benefits Rifle amid fluctuating COVID-19 restrictions
Never underestimate the power of delicious chicken wings, customer loyalty and economic ingenuity.
Throughout the course of 2020, these unassuming antidotes helped the city of Rifle not necessarily avoid the economic influenza of COVID-19, but they certainly made things a bit easier for general retail, food services and bars and restaurants to sustain decent sales.
Just two weeks after Gov. Jared Polis and the state of Colorado announced Garfield County’s drop to a less-restrictive level yellow COVID-19 dial metric, city leaders agreed it’s a step in the right direction. But looking at year-to-date sales tax collections, city coffers have seen slight dips despite the COVID-19 level.
“We still had the sales tax,” said Rifle Mayor Barbara Clifton. “So, we were lucky in that people were still purchasing through City market and Walmart — all of our retail stores that were open. As opposed to maybe a city more like Glenwood (Springs) that relies on tourists.”
City financial records show, in fact, sales tax accumulation decreased from $11 million in 2019 to $9.2 million in 2020, which don’t include December and January figures. Of which, general retail still collected $303,741 sales tax revenue for 2020 — more than a $20,000 drop from 2019’s $323,080.
Meanwhile, city sales tax revenues for bars and restaurants dropped from $98,273 in 2019 to $70,749 to 2020, while food sales actually climbed from $111,865 to $122,636 between 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Granted, Rifle maintains an edge when it comes to sales collections. Within about a 10- to 15-mile radius, it serves as a hub for a combination of local shoppers as well as visitors from Parachute and Silt.
Another financial booster shot came from economic stimulus. About 50 local businesses and 10 nonprofits around the area have taken advantage of nearly $800,000 in CARES Act funding grants. In addition, roughly $80,000 is still left on the table, Clifton said.
“So, we did loans, which were all able to turn into grants,” she said. “Basically, they’re not going to be paid back… They’re all forgivable. What I heard from the businesses is that it was extremely helpful. It was enough to help get them by and I was super glad we were able to do that.”
Grady Hazelton, owner of WingNutz Bar and Grill, said he was able to use about $10,000 in CARES Act funding to purchase heaters for his outdoor patio. In turn, loyal patrons of course were able to scarf down some wings rather comfortably otherwise freezing-cold temperatures.
“The city of Rifle, their little grant programs helped a bunch,” Hazelton said. “A few thousand here and there makes a difference.”
In addition to small economic booster shots, Hazelton has still had to overcome the economic challenges presented by the pandemic. Though the restaurant known for their wings has been keeping steady business, the abrupt halt to indoor dining didn’t help.
He said, however, the new move to offering online orders helped maintain his customer base.
“It’s been humbling, the support that we’ve had from our locals,” he said. “They’ve stepped up for us, and they will never be forgotten.”
Asked his thoughts on the county’s drop to level yellow, Hazelton acknowledged the simple concept of time as a cure all.
“I think it’s not anything that anybody can do — it’s just time,” he said. “I think by the spring we’re really going to notice a difference.”
But it ain’t all flowers for other businesses still navigating their ways through what’s hopefully turning in the tail end of COVID-19. Just as most seniors have now received their vaccine and both Grand River Health and Valley View hospitals continue to spike the next group of eligible patients, Capitol Deli owner Dusti Budd said she’s still trying to bring sales up.
“We lost several amounts of business,” she said. “ We’re probably doing about 30% of normal sales right now.”
The deli, which moved to a new location in February 2020, is currently accommodating about 30 tickets a day, as opposed to about 70 to 80, Budd said. Throughout the course of the pandemic, they haven’t had to close their doors, but at times have had to rely solely on deliveries and take-out orders.
CEO and Director of the Western Garfield County Chamber of Commerce Tanya Perea Doose said, however, the loosened COVID-19 restrictions are a positive benefit for local businesses that have been hit hard with decline in revenues due to the restrictions, especially indoor dining for our restaurants.
“Our community should start feeling a sense of a return to our new ‘normalcy’ with the ability to dine in and shop, with all the same safety precautions still in place for COVID,” she said. “Consumer confidence is returning with the vaccine being implemented and the dial 2.0 allows for businesses to move forward in a positive direction for economic recovery.”
Year-to-date sales tax revenue for Rifle
Note: figures don’t include December 2020 or January 2021
• Total sales tax: $11 million
• General retail: $323,080
• Food service: $111,865
• Bars and restaurants: $98,273
• Total sales tax: $9.2 million
• General retail: $303,741
• Food service: $122,636
• Bars and restaurants: $70,749
Currently, the western Garfield County Chamber is also working on various programs to further bolster sales for area businesses. Perea Doose said this includes starting back up their “Lunch & Learn” seminars and “Business After Hours” networking events on a quarterly basis.
For Clifton, spring can’t come any sooner.
“The sooner we can get back to normal — or closer to normal — the better I think for everyone, for the businesses, for the citizens,” she said. “I’m super excited about it.”
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