by Rick Baker
Founder and Executive Director
The Becky Baker Foundation
The restaurants in Colorado are closed. Not just a few, but thousands and thousands. We’ve all seen them. Our favorite eatery now has a sign in their window that tells its loyal patrons, “Goodbye, Forever.”
The Colorado Restaurant Association says that by year’s end, (or in two weeks) over 57% of the state’s restaurants that were open in January of this year, will be closed, permanently.
Let’s put actual numbers to this percentage:
According to the Association, in January of this year, there were about 11,800 restaurants in the state that employed about 285,000 workers that accounted for 10% of the state’s labor force.
By my math, that means that by the end of this year, in just two weeks, our state has lost an estimated 6,726 restaurants and 162,450 workers.
I have four obvious questions that follow these catastrophic numbers:
1. Why are these restaurants closed?
2. Who closed them?
3. Was it the right thing to do?
4. What efforts have been made to force a re-opening?
2. The Governor.
3. Based on available data, no.
4. Not enough.
In Colorado alone, we have 35,650 small farms, not to mention the tens of thousands of bakers, fishermen, butchers, wine producers, artisanal purveyors, florists, linen companies, drivers, delivery workers and more along the restaurant supply chain.
It’s not just the restaurants that the governor has closed. His decisions have affected tens of thousands of other businesses and hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.
COVID-19 is no doubt a devastating virus that has taken the lives of many. There is much debate over how many have really died by COVID alone and how it is really transmitted. I had COVID earlier this year and it was just a weird flu for me. For others though, it is fatal. I have a longtime friend in Denver who had a serious battle with the disease and almost died. We all know someone who has had it, may have it now, or has passed away from it.
During this unprecedented time, we expect our governor to protect the residents of this state as best he can without infringing on our Constitutional Rights. On many fronts, Governor Polis has done just that. However, when he declared it necessary to close all indoor dining at restaurants to “protect us” from the spread of this disease, without providing the necessary proof to support this business-ending decision, many believe he overstepped his legal and moral authority. I am one of those.
When such a radical mandate is issued by any elected official, it becomes that person’s responsibility to provide the evidence to support that mandate. In this case, he needs to provide all the science and data to support his decision. We should not have to litigate to gain this evidence. He should make it openly available. To date, he has not.
Has anyone challenged the governor to make his evidence public? The only legal challenge that I can find demanding this evidence was from a group of bars in the Denver area. An affiliate group to the Colorado Restaurant Association, sued the governor, demanding that he show the science and data to support his decision. They lost without ever seeing this alleged evidence.
So far, that is it in Colorado. But not so in California.
In San Diego County, they sued the governor and the county after their restaurants were closed and you know what? They won. Why? Because there is no “science or data” that links indoor dining to COVID. None. Not in California and not in Colorado either.
In this week’s ruling in San Diego, the judge ordered that all restaurants could open, “effective immediately,” The judge wrote that there was no “connection between the spread of COVID and a wide array of business and other activities including gyms, fitness center, yoga studios, bars, restaurants, spas, fraternities and sororities, religious entities and entertainment centers.”
Earlier, the judge had ordered the county and state to prove this connection in order to keep the restaurants closed, and they could not. County and state authorities were admonished by a judge who felt a bit duped. The judge’s operative two words were: “No Connection!”
Another case in California, has the owner of The Pineapple Hill and Saloon & Grill suing the governor personally for the restaurant lockdown in Southern California. The owner, Angela Mardsen, is demanding that Gov. Newsom provide the "Science and data to proved the restaurant lockdown is tied to COVID." Hundreds more restaurants in California are preparing the same lawsuits and the governor is now fighting off a valid recall campaign to remove him from office. Read the lawsuit HERE.
But back home in Colorado, other than the one challenge from the bar association, no one has legally challenged the governor over his restaurant lockdown.
Although Colorado Springs seems to have had just about enough of the governor closing down indoor dining. Mayor John Suthers, in a letter sent Sunday to Gov. Jared Polis, El Paso County Commission Chairman Mark Waller and other public officials asked for indoor dining at all restaurants to be reopened, saying it would be a much more efficient solution compared to what's known as the Five Star Certification program, a government boondoggle that will cost the county $500,000.
Officials argued in the letter that residents would be safer eating in restaurants than at events hosted in homes. In fact, statistics confirm that we have a more likely chance of dying in a car accident driving to our restaurant than we do catching COVID while dining there.
Finally, some sanity. This letter seems to me to be the preamble to a lawsuit filed on behalf of COS restaurants. I sure hope so.
Which brings me to The Colorado Restaurant Association. Why haven't they pushed back legally? Aren’t they supposed to protect their members? I did some research online and couldn’t find any CRA pushbacks against the governor, so I decided to call the Association and get the what’s what from their CEO, Ms. Sonya Riggs. I wanted to ask her why the Association hasn’t sued the state, demanding they prove, with “science and data,” that closing restaurants will stop, or even slow, the spread of COVID.
Ms. Riggs was kind enough to speak with me, leaving an important meeting to do so, and we merged our call with Ms. Laura Shunk, who is the Communications Director for the Association.
They were both very kind, and obviously frustrated with the governor’s mandate. I asked them why the Association had not sued the governor and what they had done to reopen the 5,000+ Colorado restaurants that are still in business.
(Remember, close to 7,000 have already closed.)
They agreed with me that the governor does not have the science or data to support closing our restaurants. They said they have spoken to a few attorneys about suing the governor and that all had said the “sweeping power of governor would always win.” They were no doubt frustrated that they couldn’t find an attorney willing to take on the state and win.
All it takes is one judge to order the governor to produce the science and data that he has used to order these restaurants closed for indoor dining. Just one judge. Just like California.
For restaurant employees, though, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that is not a gorilla with a flashlight. It is The Angel Relief Fund.
Ms. Riggs told me about this grant program that offers up to $1,000 to former restaurant employees. So far this year, they have given out over $1.6 million dollars. Here is the website link: https://corestaurant.org. While this is admirable, a thousand dollars doesn’t go very far today. What they need are their jobs back and restaurants reopened.
The governor will trumpet the fact that there is “outdoor dining,” so the remaining restaurants in our state are really “open for business.” While this is true on its face, it is not very practical with winter approaching.
In my hometown of Colorado Springs, a big deal has been made over an outdoor dining structure in downtown on Tejon Avenue to serve only four restaurants. Granted, in Colorado, many of our days are mild and brisk, making outdoor dining bearable. But, overall, being limited to outdoor dining-only is probably a death sentence for many restaurants.
Now, you are probably asking at this point why am I, the Executive Director of a breast cancer foundation headquartered in Colorado Springs, writing about the devastation of our restaurant industry? What does that have to do with breast cancer prevention? A lot, actually.
When the governor issued mandates to close the restaurants, he effectively terminated over 150,000 workers. Along with their jobs, went their health insurance.
Now out of a job and insurance, struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, they don’t have the money to pay for their scheduled breast cancer screening, and it's put on the back burner, or taken off the stove completely.
As a result, get ready for thousands of new and unnecessary breast cancer cases (and deaths) in 2021 and beyond, many directly related to the state’s closing of restaurants.
It is not my intention to pick a fight with the governor of my state. Personally, I do not know him, nor do I know his true motivations with his restaurant shutdown orders. I only hope that Governor Polis understands the far-reaching consequences of his decision to close indoor dining in what’s left of Colorado’s original 12,000 restaurants, now numbering just above 5,000.
Breast cancer is an evil disease that often leads to a terrible death. So many of the coming flood of cases in our state are, I believe, senseless.
Rick Baker is the Founder and Executive Director of The Becky Baker Foundation. He is a best-selling author, an award-winning journalist and a longtime member of The Society of Professional Journalists. Contact him at: email@example.com.