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Post Flood, A Slow Road To Recovery For Lyons Businesses

Grace Hood

Life is far from normal in this town of 2,000. Most residents haven’t returned home yet because power, sewer and water lines broke during the floods. Some homes and businesses were untouched by water.

  Others here in Lyons like the 20 acre festival grounds of Planet Bluegrassare hardly recognizable.

“A lot of these places there’s a bunch of sand on top of otherwise fine grass,” said Festival Director Craig Ferguson. “We know we’re going to do it, we just need to figure out how we’ll pay for it as we go on the road a little bit.”

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC
At Planet Bluegrass, workers must divert a stream that's now flowing in front of the main stage.

Town leaders estimate it could take months before residents can move back to this funky artistic community. That’s fine for Ferguson, whose prime season starts next summer.

Meanwhile at Neil Sullivan’s St. Vrain Market, time is of the essence.

“The initial thought was, Wow, we have a stack of invoices here,” said Sullivan, as he stood in front of barren shelves and an unfilled deli case.

Sullivan donated tens of thousands of dollars of food to residents affected by the floods. In addition to replenishing his stock, he also needs to repair damaged equipment. He’s applied for a low-interest loan with the U.S. Small Business Administration. But he’s worried about when he’ll see customers again.

“I think for businesses that are really struggling right now to take on more debt at this point is going to be a real challenge,” he said.

That worrisome to Mayor Julie Van Domelen, who estimates about 170 businesses are hobbled right now.

“It is agonizing to watch all of them be closed at once,” she said.

Van Damelen says the city is prioritizing businesses in its recovery plan. The town launched the Lyons Business Recovery Fund. And it turned on electricity first in a corridor where many shops are located. But the future is very much uncharted territory.

“There are no chain stores here,” said Van Damelen. “Unfortunately that means the pockets are not so deep. And corporate can’t bail you out for a few months in Lyons. They’re bailing themselves out by family savings and credit cards probably.”

Taking on more debt is something Lisa Ruoff, owner of The Gear Spot, decided against. She’s shuttering her outdoor equipment consignment shop after opening its doors less than one year ago. She says she didn’t have physical flood damage, but couldn’t afford to coast for several months without customers.

Ruoff’s concerned that she could be the first of many businesses to go under.

“Unless they have a lot of money to back them up, I can’t see how anyone can keep going this way,” she said.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC
Spirit Hound Distillers Co-founder Craig Engelhorn surveys the damage behind his building in east Lyons.

Down the street at Spirit Hound Distillers, dehumidifiers hum next to massive stainless steel equipment that’s useless without water and sewer lines. This business is also in its first year. It saw substantial building damage and has no customers passing through its tasting room right now. But distiller and Co-founder Craig Engelhorn is hopeful.

“I want to be standing here with my thumb on the on button so when the town say you can use the sewer, boom we’re going to start producing,” he said.

In a place where sales tax plays a major role in the town coffers, Lyons has a lot of hard work ahead. Right now it doesn’t matter how businesses get back to work. The important part is that they plan on returning at all.

Lyons is accepting donations to its Business Recovery Fund at P.O. Box 150, Lyons, CO 80540. Donations are tax deductible, and all money will be repaid by businesses into a perpetual revolving loan fund managed by the town. Loans made from this fund will be at 0% or low interest.

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