Like a majority of states, Colorado has been under strict stay-at-home orders for the last five weeks, put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But as of May 1, retail stores and personal services were given the green light to re-open — as long as they were “implementing best practices,” per Colorado’s official website.
While, on the surface, this is great news for small businesses who have been struggling to stay afloat since being forced to close their doors, it’s not that simple. Max Martinez, the owner of Colorado-based luxury clothing store Max Fashion, says he felt conflicted upon hearing the news. Some of the questions that came up: Is it too soon for shops to reopen? How can they reopen safely? Can they survive at all if they don’t reopen now?
Over the last 35 years, Martinez has built a small fashion empire in the state. He currently owns and operates three store locations in Aspen, Boulder, and Denver, each of which carries exclusive pieces by luxury designers like Bottega Veneta, Loewe, Celine, and The Row. “I've been through every up and down, surviving recessions and difficult times. But this definitely caught us by storm,” Martinez tells me over the phone ahead of the Denver location’s reopening on May 9.
“There are so many things to be worried about,” he says. “During times like this, your mind goes crazy, thinking constantly that you're going to go out of business and worrying about how you’ll take care of your team if that happens.” With all but two of his 16 employees having been with him for more than 11 years, Martinez says that maintaining his team was of the utmost importance for him. To ensure that no layoffs had to be made, he gathered everyone at the first sign of lockdown to discuss a plan of action. “I basically said, ‘Okay, how are we going to make this happen?’ and went from there,” Martinez says. At that first meeting, new procedures and strategies were put in place, including safely delivering orders by hand and finding ways to connect with customers and vendors digitally.
“Everything that we were scared about, we turned into a positive,” he says. Prior to the lockdown, his store was wholly reliant on brick-and-mortar sales. With all three of his store locations closed, though, Martinez had to get creative: “I sat down with my marketing director because we were admittedly a little slow to the party with Instagram and our e-commerce website. This got us to go to the next level of workflow.”
Since then, the brand began hosting Instagram Lives with designers, communicating with customers to find out what they want from Max Fashion during this time, and having meaningful conversations with vendors. “I have vendors that I've dealt with for 20 years, and all we do is say hello and goodbye every few months. Now we talk on the phone daily. There's so much more communication going on.” Max Clothing additionally launched #WeAreOpen, an Instagram campaign created to build a community and highlight local businesses that “are making a difference in Denver and across Colorado, whether it's a restaurant, a gallery, whatever.”
But of course, it hasn’t been an entirely seamless experience. “For as positive as I'm being, I have nights where I sit up and think, Holy shit! I worry about reopening but also not reopening,” Martinez says. “I want us all to be safe.” With that in mind, opening with an appointment-only format felt like the best option to ensure the safety of both his employees and customers.
“I’m scared, but I’m also ready,” he says about the reopening. “We haven't had business and, while we were able to cover our bills with the home deliveries, there are other financial burdens to think about … Of course, there's excitement, and it's nice to see people walking around, but also scary at the same time. I’m scared that we will be shut down again.”
In terms of other safety precautions, the Denver store will only have one employee working at a time, employees will be required to wear masks at all times, and an industrial cleaning service will clean and disinfect the space on a nightly basis. “For the most part, everyone else, from our marketing coordinator to the store manager, will continue to work from home,” he adds.
As for plans to reopen his other two store locations and allow walk-ins again? “That's in the future. For now, we’re taking everything day-by-day.”
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.