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We’ll boom instead of bust locally

Those who have read about Durango’s history know that we’ve been called a “Boom and Bust” town.

Well, we’re somewhat in the bust era again thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and current health orders. But thankfully, 2020 is in the rearview mirror.

The main force over the decades that enabled Durango/La Plata County to regain our “boom” is our community members, our people. I can just hear our forefathers saying, “I’m sorry, we’re just not going to take this. What do we do to fix it?”

So we’re now there again, and community members need to know that there are people out here (who are working in our offices, remotely and like a Sasquatch sighting, occasionally seen out and about behind our masks – yes, I’m being Jack-sarcastic), but know we are moving the needle, getting businesses open.

I first need to give credit to Mesa County, as the forward-thinking folks in our sister county came up with the 5-Star Program. I first heard of this program in July and held off as we were able to be open and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now fast forward – the program has been adopted at the state level, and when we heard of its success, we jumped on it, applied and were approved.

We put in place an administrative committee, led by the Business Improvement District, the Durango Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association, La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, La Plata County, city of Durango, town of Bayfield, town of Ignacio, the Durango Chamber and countless others. Our model has been approved, with the importance of public safety at top of the list. The 5-Star program adds to the protocols already in place in our local self-certification process for businesses.

Businesses need to “apply” for certification, and to begin the process restaurants and businesses currently can email riselaplata@gmail.com. (Note a formal website is in development.) When an application is complete, an inspector will contact the business to schedule a time to visit, review, confirm and approve. The business will receive signage designating it a 5-Star-approved location.

Restaurants are our first priority. At the moment, it’s a limited start – only 25% of capacity, but this will increase as we move up the COVID-19 dial. Hopefully we can all work together to follow precautions to bring down our community’s COVID-19 levels in order to qualify for the state’s Level Orange as soon as we can.

The new protocols also include that reservations are preferred and only people from the same household can sit together.

An additional aspect of the 5-Star certification is that customers will be asked if they have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms recently before being seated. Some restaurants might even take temperatures. If anyone answers “yes,” they will be asked to revert to a take-out order. Customers will also have to provide name, phone number and email from one person in their party before being seated. This is for contact tracing. And the mask requirement has been stepped up. Customers will be required to wear masks at all times when not eating – including interacting with servers or waiting for a meal.

When these changes are combined with enhanced procedures our businesses are implementing, a safe environment is created that can allow businesses to operate.

It’s not perfect or what we love to have to implement, but this project is one step closer to getting our economy – and the health of our community – thriving again.

Jack Llewellyn is executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at jack@durangobusiness.org.