Three framed pictures of fighter jets hang on the wall of Grinders Sandwich Company along with a large, wood-carved American flag and silhouetted service members.
The restaurant’s chairs used to be filled with airmen from Peterson Air Force Base stopping in for their midday meal.
Now those seats, along with others at nearby restaurants, sit empty come lunchtime, casualties of the base changing its North Gate hours. As it stands, the gate is only open on weekdays and only for inbound traffic from 6-9 a.m. and outbound traffic from 2:30-6 p.m.
“When [Grinders] rented this space, the gate was open more,” said co-owner Mike Greenberg. “It closing or changing its hours has basically brought our lunch crowd to ‘nada.’ It shut it down, and we used to crank it out for lunch.”
In April, the Air Force base announced and implemented the changes at the gate, located off Highway 24 East, because of “force protection conditions,” said Steve Brady, a 21st Space Wing spokesperson.
“Peterson Air Force Base is considered a priority level 1 installation, so that means we provide a higher level of security here than you might find at another base,” Brady said. “There was a change in requirements that was identified and we had to alter the hours. They are working on making a security update to the gate, and at that point, we are hoping we can extend the hours a little more than they are right now.”
Col. Todd Moore, the 21st Space Wing commander, told the base newspaper, the Peterson Space Observer, in April that the base would be developing a plan over the next 60 days that included keeping the North Gate outbound lane open from 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
“This will facilitate outbound vehicle traffic as well as pedestrian traffic … people wishing to enter and exit the base on foot,” he said.
However, when the Business Journal asked, Brady was unable to provide a time frame for when the gate’s hours would be expanded.
“I made a phone call over to our civil engineer squadron to get more current information but have not heard back from them,” he said. “It’s dependent on a contractor coming to do some work. So, I hate to say it’s out of our hands but, to a certain extent, it is, because we are waiting for the contractor to come in and get some work done.”
Moore also told the Observer the hour changes were not in response to an incident in early April, when a man barricaded himself inside a minivan with propane tanks strapped to its roof and tried to enter the base through the North Gate before being arrested.
“As always, the security and safety of Team Pete patrons remains our primary concern,” he said in the Observer. “I assure you we had been working to implement these gate hour changes long before the incident that occurred outside the gate. Also, we ask for your understanding during these changes. In turn, I promise to be as expedient with communicating additional changes as possible.”
Greenberg, along with Meredith Rutrough, owner of Hair Headquarters LLC, expressed frustration about the base’s continued lack of communication with businesses affected by the hour changes.
“My aunt started this in 1987, so we’ve been here since this was the main gate and this shopping center was built to support the military,” Rutrough said. “We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs but this is probably the most devastating because we don’t know if the gate is reopening. We keep hearing from customers it is, but we aren’t sure because [base officials] really aren’t telling us anything.”
Neither Greenberg nor Rutrough received any notification from the base about the hour changes prior to them going into effect.
“I found out after looking at [Peterson’s] Facebook page,” Rutrough said. “I didn’t get a letter or anything personally.”
When he asked his landlord, Greenberg said he also didn’t receive any warning about hour changes.
“There was no notification that I’m aware of to anyone,” he said. “I don’t know if they really have a community obligation to let us know, but it’s a little frustrating because one minute you are doing X amount of dollars and then you are not. It’s hard to plan for something like that but it’s part of business I guess.”
Brady didn’t know if businesses had been contacted beforehand about the new gate hours.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I know the change came about fairly quickly, so I’m not aware if there was time in advance to really notify them of the changes. Since, we have been in touch with several business owners outside the gate, explaining to them why we are doing this. For the most part, they have understood the reason why we’ve had to do it.”
Peterson is always addressing potential security issues and adjusting when necessary, Brady said.
“We are trying to work through these hour changes as quickly as possible while still maintaining a certain security level,” he said. “We are hoping to be able to extend them but we are not sure if they are going to be able to go back to what they were prior. That is something that will be up to our security forces squadron.”
Meanwhile, Greenberg is shifting the restaurant’s advertising efforts to focus on attracting residents in surrounding neighborhoods.
“We are not going to shut down because of this,” he said. “I have one of my employees out canvassing the other direction away from the base and we are just kind of shifting our focus for now. We’ve already had a few people come in from that.”
Compared to her business neighbors, which are mostly restaurants, Rutrough counts herself lucky.
“It hasn’t disrupted my current customers near as much as the other people in here, but I’m definitely not getting as many new ones because all the businesses in this shopping center kind of feed off of each other,” she said. “I’ve heard the restaurants really complain about their drops in sales, and we are supposed to be getting two new ones. They probably had no idea and had already signed their contract without being able to get out of it. Now, they will be waiting like the rest of — riding a wave we don’t know how long is going to last.”
Editor’s note: Colorado Publishing House, which publishes the Business Journal, also publishes the Peterson Space Observer.