Francisco Martinez has been a barber for 15 years, renting chairs at shops to practice his trade. But he always wanted a place of his own. So three years ago, after he saved up enough money, he opened Cisco’s Barbershop.
The business, which sits on Federal Boulevard just south of Alameda Avenue, took some time to take root. The money was slow at first, but Martinez’s bottom line grew a little bit every month. And then, about six months ago, he hit critical mass. His chairs were full every day with customers, each made fresh by a barber paying Martinez for the space.
But then came the pandemic, and his revenue dried up overnight. So Martinez turned to the same place a lot of business owners did: the city.
In March, Denver announced it would be handing out grants worth as much as $7,500 to local businesses. On Friday, officials released the names of recipients of almost every business that made the first round; 213 establishments made the list, spread all over the city. More than 35 percent of the grants went to food-adjacent businesses: restaurants, bars, caterers, entertainment venues and wholesalers. The next-biggest chunk, about 12 percent, went to retailers. The city says it’ll award a second batch grants in May. Some from the first batch weren’t included in the first report since their money wasn’t finalized yet.
Most of the recipients we spoke to received less than $7,500. We didn’t find out why, since the city was closed over the weekend when we reported this story.
Martinez said he got about $1,000. While he’s grateful for the infusion, the money is tinged with mixed feelings.
“I’ll take it,” he said, “but at the same time, it’s not doing too much for us.”
The sum is worth less than half a month’s rent, but he’s had other expenses. A window at Cisco’s was shattered recently when someone broke in. It happened after-hours, while social distancing meant his block was quiet. Martinez said most of his grant will reimburse what he paid to make repairs.
He was looking forward to reopening after Gov. Polis announced an end to statewide stay-at-home measures. Martinez said he had about 50 appointments booked for this week. But then Mayor Hancock announced an extension on sanctions for Denver. Martinez has been calling his customers back, telling them their haircut had to be postponed again.
Darren Skanson’s money was also bordered with some discontent. He’s a classical guitarist who runs Colorado Creative Music, a full-service recording studio on East Colfax Avenue. While he wanted to be super-clear that he appreciates the money, he still feels a little burned that he had to close down in the first place. He’s usually separated from his customers by noise-proof glass, and he never has more than two clients in at once.
“I’m being treated the same as somebody who has a whole restaurant full of people,” he said. The restrictions, he said, are a “one-size-fits-all answer.”
So his frustration has only continued since he heard Denver extended its stay-at-home order. It doesn’t help that he’s still getting several calls a day from creatives who have been writing songs at home — and that he drives past open businesses that were deemed essential.
Still, the city grant will help him pay the mortgage for his 20-year-old business while his earnings are frozen.
“It’s gonna hopefully last this thing out,” he said.
In Montbello, Hanna and Cedric Dunn are still waiting to reopen their Wigs & Beauty Supply shop on Chambers Road.
Cedric said the money they heard they’d receive should pay their rent for the next two months. As soon as they’re allowed to open for curbside pickup, Cedric said, they’ll do it.
“The phones ring all day here, but we can’t actually do anything,” he said.
But the Dunns are a little uncertain about how much business they’ll actually get when things resume. A lot of their clients are salons and barbershops who, like Martinez, haven’t needed to resupply in a while.
Despite some difficulties, others were just flat-out thankful for the help.
Carl Schmidt, owner of the Capitol Hill Mansion Bed and Breakfast Inn, said he was awarded about $4,700.
He’s a trained accountant, so he got his grant application in early. That’s why he also managed to claim a loan and payroll protection from the Small Business Association. Still, he said, he was surprised when Denver came calling.
“There’s so many businesses, but everybody’s applying and therefore they’re only going to allow so many,” he said. “It was very nice of them. I can’t thank them enough.”
He’s been staying alone in the big house, working on some repairs and putting care packages together for some of his elderly neighbors. Schmidt is confident he’ll make it though a potentially new recession — economists warn it could be long and difficult — but he still doesn’t expect to see many customers for a few months.
Standing in his snow globe manufacturing and repair facility in Northeast Park Hill, Reid Grossnickle said he was reminded of similar business freezes after 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. This one feels worse, he said, because at least after the banks folded a decade ago people could still go out to eat.
Snowglobe Central is the kind of business that reveals how widespread the pain of this current moment really is. Orders for his custom corporate products melted overnight, he said, as annual awards shows were canceled and clients cut nonessential expenses.
“About 70 percent of my business just disappeared,” he said, so the money he got from Denver was well received. “It’ll take me over a couple months.”
His repair business has suffered, too. After lockdowns were enacted across the country, he started to get emails from people asking if he might hang onto their treasured trinkets for a few months until they could afford to pay the $50 or $60 they owe him.
But the personalized items he sells online, those with photos of couples or athletes inside, have increased a bit since since this time last year. People are sitting at home, he reckons, clicking ads on social media and spending on something small to bring them a little pleasure.
Correction: This story initially stated that Denver would announce a second round of grants on Friday, May 1st. The update won’t come until sometime later in May, according to officials.