Mother-pop stores are dying amid Covid-19 on Tennyson Street in Denver


DENVER – When Covid-19 reached the United States in March, Alyssa Manny’s yoga studio revenue fell 60 percent to 70 percent. And it wasn’t just him. Almost every business on Tennyson Street in a gentleman’s district, about 15 minutes from downtown Denver, has been hit hard by the epidemic.

For the first time, Biju’s Little Curry Shop was its popular restaurant, serving dishes with which Biju Thomas grew up in South India like samosa chaat, dosas and rotis. He moved to the United States in 1980 and settled in northern Denver. February was the best month since he opened the restaurant in 2016. However, it was completed by March.

“We lost $ 80,000 from bookings in the first week,” Thomas said recently. “We booked weddings and events in March, April, May. We made about $ 400,000 in hospitality and events in one year. Fifteen hundred meals a day outside the kitchen. It is no longer possible to return from this.

Thomas ’experience is echoed by small business owners across the country who have been exposed to difficult times since the start of the pandemic that killed more than 260,000 people in the United States and stifled the economy. At least 100,000 small businesses nationwide have closed permanently, according to an analysis published by Yelp in September. Many barely hang.

On Wednesday, people walk down Tennyson Street in Denver next to the Wana Art House. The house was built for demolition, but became an interactive art experience over the summer.Rachel Woolf / for NBC News

According to a 2019 report by the Small Business Administration, small businesses account for 44 percent of U.S. economic activity. Restaurants that employed 15 million people before the pandemic were particularly hard hit. The wreckage is evident in empty shop windows, takeaway-only signs, and GoFundMe locations that help traders stay afloat.

“No one was prepared for the reality of closing the entire economy,” said Manny, owner of Ohana Yoga + Barre and vice president of the local merchants ’association. “Did the business owners have to decide if they wanted to take on debt, play the long game, or get out? Manny chose the former, took on $ 200,000 in debt, and turned his popular studio into just a membership operation.

In the early 20th century, trams ran along Avenue 38 and 44, and riders jumped at Tennyson to shop and watch movies. Over the decades, the bowling alley has become a grocery store; the cinema, a music store; and the post office, a furniture store. Other small businesses moved in, such as hairdressers, printers and corners.

With eight restaurant blocks, a brewery, an independent bookstore and The Oriental Theater, home to live music performances, the Tennyson Street Commercial Corridor is the beating heart of the community. Today, Tennyson is rapidly gentrifying, and to nod to the transformation, high-end sportswear supplier Lululemon recently opened a seasonal pop-up, Corepower Yoga moved in, and a boutique hotel arrives in January.

A man walks next to the shops on Tennyson Street in Denver on Wednesday.Rachel Woolf / for NBC News

However, some residents are critical of the changes, including downstairs non-retail homes to facilitate pedestrian traffic, saying the trend is not typical of a neighborhood where centuries-old bungalows sit next to modern homes.

Along Tennyson, a vivid painting of a buffalo hangs in the art gallery window, and the scent of citrus candles greets pedestrians in front of a nearby store. The familiar note of “Starting to look like a lot of Christmas” stands out from an antique shop, and passers-by only breathe in what the restaurants serve – bacon, toast, red sauce, pepperoni.

In the spring and summer, restaurants that survived Covid-19’s initial shell shock turned to exports and outdoor dining. The picnic tables moved into parking lots and vacant lots, and there was a party-like atmosphere on the street. Three demolition houses became pop-up spaces for an interactive art experience sponsored by a marijuana brand. Wana Art House showcased a magical circus, Beach House projected immersive beach scenes, and The Club House was the site of pop-up art and boutique sales.

However, as the seasons turned, the businesses closed again. The fence surrounds the former art houses, and Local 46, a popular watering hole with a tree-lined terrace, is permanently closed for Halloween.

The Hops and Pie pizzeria, owned by Drew Watson and his wife, Leah Watson, spent a busy summer, but a short video released in November informed customers they were moving and relocating indefinitely. The heated outdoor tent they built will sit empty as the state announces that one in 41 of its Colorado will show a positive result for the Covid-19. Indoor meals are not allowed, not even in tents.

“It was certainly the worst year we’ve ever had due to a landslide,” said Watson, who has owned the restaurant for ten years.

Chuck’s barber shop on Tennyson Street in Denver on Wednesday.Rachel Woolf / for NBC News

The news came on November 16 that the Alchemy 365 fitness studio will shut down after opening in January and occupy the entire first floor of a residential building. At the time of the epidemic, membership had dropped by more than 60 percent, co-owner Tyler Quinn said. The company received loans from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program, allowing some of its employees to stay for a period of time, and landlords adjusted their rents. But it was still not enough.

“It’s terribly disappointing,” Quinn said. “This has been designated a year of really aggressive growth for us. We will be late if our long-term vision does not slip completely.

Two of his seven locations, one on Tennyson Street and one in Minneapolis, were forced to close during the pandemic. Quinn and his team were discouraged by the lack of leadership assistance at all levels of government to navigate the crisis.

“It doesn’t feel like anyone out there is thinking,‘ How can we support these small businesses? “- He told.

Despite the Covid-19, Elias Lehnert decided to move on with the Colorado Cherry Company’s latest pie business after his landlord sweetened the deal. His family started his business in 1929, and his parents have three stores in northern Colorado.

– The pie is reassuring. It’s like a hug. Said Lehnert, who represents the fourth generation of his family in the business. “People just need one hug now, in many ways. “

Lehner, who began setting up his pie shop in August, said the building’s owner, Asana Partners, offered him the rent for the room until it opened in November, paying up to 15 percent less than a former prospective tenant.

Carefully start with pop-ups for the holidays when customers order a pie and pick it up at the receipt window.

“They want to see us succeed,” Lehnert said of the landlords. “I feel so much better that we don’t have the pressure to be completely open today. … If I had to be completely open, I would be very scared.

The handful of developers who turned their demands to Tennyson Street are also uncertain. Lenny Taub, owner of First Stone Development, is working on his second project on Tennyson Street. He sold a 42-apartment apartment this year, but the pandemic changed his approach to his next development after he had trouble moving smaller units.

From left, Rachel Lehnert and Elias Lehnert, co-owners of Colorado Cherry Co., are looking for a customer in their Denver store on Wednesday.Rachel Woolf / for NBC News

“What I learned in the middle of a pandemic is that they are looking for an elbow room and were willing to spend money on bigger places,” Taub said.

By the spring of 2022, he hopes to break into his next residential building, with fewer studios and more two-bedroom units. Taub expects Tennyson’s gentrification to continue, epidemic or non-epidemic.

– It’s walkability. It’s a really good place to walk, ”he said. “I see the attraction. I understand why young families move there. Great place to raise children. “

Nonetheless, Alyssa Manny fears Covid-19 will permanently change the mother-pop nature of Tennyson Street because only national companies will be able to pay leases as small businesses close and landlords stop providing epidemic rents.

“Our small businesses on our streets are constantly giving back to their communities,” Manny said. “We sponsor baseball teams and give them back to the homeless. We want to see this whole area continue to flourish. “