Downtown Colorado Springs

Well, here we are — 2021. Following a disastrous 2020, for many it felt as though the calendar would never turn over. And while every Jan. 1 carries with it some degree of optimism, of hope that this year will be better than the last, this new year “hit different,” as the cool kids say.

Despite a bumpy rollout, we know COVID-19 vaccines are making their way into the arms of waiting essential personnel and the most vulnerable. And later this year: the general population. It’s a major step toward returning to “normal.” Other reasons to be optimistic: The stock market took some tumbles last year, but considering the battered economy, it’s doing better than it probably should. And while the most recent stimulus was met with consternation by many, the checks from the IRS have helped slow the hemorrhaging for some small businesses and families — for now. There’s even, one can hope, an opportunity for a fresh start, politically speaking, despite recent efforts to subvert one of the most secure elections in our nation’s history.

There are many reasons to be hopeful moving into this new year, and in Colorado Springs, those reasons are amplified.

Mayor John Suthers spoke with the Business Journal last month about the city’s resilience, pointing to our booming commercial and residential construction sectors, a hot housing market, the Amazon project near Colorado Springs Airport, the expected completion of the Pikes Peak Summit House, the upcoming opening of mega-retailer Scheels All Sports, and last year’s ribbon-cuttings for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame, and the William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center. Work continues on the Downtown stadium and Robson Arena at Colorado College, and the economy will continue to be largely bolstered by reliable Department of Defense dollars thanks to our military installations and the possibility of becoming the permanent home for the U.S. Space Force. The city is sitting on a wellspring of kinetic energy, just waiting to gush forth.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As the sage Axl Rose first sang in 1987, “All we need is just a little patience.”

The nation saw a bump in COVID-19 cases and deaths following the first reopening last summer. That, of course, led to another round of shutdowns throughout the country in the fall. Many businesses did not emerge unscathed — if they emerged at all.

Just Monday, El Paso County Public Health ratcheted down the COVID-19 Dial from “Red: Severe Risk” to “Orange: High Risk.” Eateries can open dining rooms to 25 percent capacity or 50 people, whichever number is smaller. Gyms and personal services such as salons can reopen at reduced capacity as well.

But restrictions are easing just as we’re witnessing the first post-holiday infection bump in the county. 

“This is a big deal. Moving to Level Orange [and allowing] small businesses to operate in accordance with safety protocols means employees have jobs, rents and mortgages get paid, and people keep their livelihoods,” the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC said this week in its newsletter. 

It is a big deal. But it’s only a good deal for all involved if we do it right.

Given the economic wreckage from last year’s shutdowns, many business owners are not willing to relive that trauma. But the risk of getting sick (complicated by new, faster-spreading strains of the virus) makes another shutdown a very real possibility, threatening to stall any recovery in the new year.

Colorado Springs and surrounding communities are poised for what could be an epic comeback — if we are patient. We must continue to practice social distancing; we must continue to wear masks; we must continue to plan beyond tomorrow, or next week. This means implementing innovative solutions for keeping small business operating safely while continuing to focus on reducing the incidence rate (which is still high enough to be concerning) within the county. As the Business Journal’s editorial board has stated in the past: There’s no sense taking one step forward and two steps back.

The Guns N’ Roses frontman was ahead of his time: We must be patient. It’s the only way to make 2021 better than last year, and it will take everyone doing their part.