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 Next weekend, restaurant tables will replace cars on 25th Street between Pikes Peak and Colorado avenues in Old Colorado City.

Susan Quintana, who owns Vino Colorado Winery at the Sweet Elephant, hopes closing the street and the debut of the outdoor dining program, OCC Al Fresco, will be a lifeline for her café and winery.

“COVID has destroyed our business,” she said. “At first, we were down to 10% of our normal income, then up to 40% when we reopened, and now we’re back down to 5% to 10%.”

The new project is among 14 to receive funding from the third round of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Revitalizing Main Streets program.

Two other cities in El Paso County also will benefit from the initiative, designed to promote the economy during the COVID-19 crisis.

Along Manitou Springs’ business district, barricades will cordon off parking spaces on Manitou Avenue to make way for outdoor diners, bicyclists and pedestrians.

And Fountain’s business district is slated to soon undergo $50,000 worth of intersection and sidewalk upgrades, including Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible ramps, bump-outs and bike racks.

The enhancements couldn’t come at a better time, business owners say.

“Getting loans you aren’t going to be able to pay back isn’t helping,” Quintana said. “We’re going to go into next year with a lot of businesses that are going to go under.”

Already, an estimated 110,000 restaurants, roughly one in six nationwide, have permanently closed, the National Restaurant Association said this week.

With most Coloradans unlikely to get a COVID vaccine until next summer, restaurants will be grappling with the same coronavirus chill for much of 2021.

“We’re all on limited hours,” Quintana said of businesses and restaurants in the Old Colorado City shopping district.

On top of that, El Paso County’s COVID restrictions mean just five people can pick up a to-go order at a time from her café.

“Last weekend, I was asking people to sit on a park bench, and we brought their orders out,” Quintana said. “One problem is the rules keep changing, and you don’t know from day to day what it’s going to be. It’s almost hysterical.”

The cities, towns and other public agencies that receive the revitalization grants to modify state roadways and other public spaces are required to provide a 10% match in funds.

The $26,448 Old Colorado City grant will pay for 10 new outdoor dining tables, along with patio heaters, rain tents, traffic drums with landscaping, bicycle racks, barricades and signs.

Mother Muff’s Kitchen and Spirits, a restaurant and bar that has been closed off and on in recent weeks, will share some of the outdoor space with Colorado Vino Winery at the Sweet Elephant. The project is a joint effort of the city of Colorado Springs and the historic area’s merchants association. The goal is to open the new feature next weekend, Quintana said.

Manitou Springs’ $48,848 grant will repurpose parking spaces to encourage outdoor dining and shopping and add 16 bike racks. Barriers and ADA-accessible curb ramps also are planned. 

The project has been conditionally approved for grant funds, but organizers are still awaiting a final waiver before they are able to proceed, said CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson.

Fountain’s proposal also is missing documentation but has received funding approval, Wilson said. The $50,000 Fountain is receiving is the largest amount awarded under the program.

Businesses are reporting “large losses of revenue” due to the pandemic slowing foot traffic and occupancy restrictions, according to Jeff Jones, Manitou’s director of public works.

“Limited outdoor seating options continue to reduce their ability to recover,” he said in the grant application. “Additionally, residents are concerned about the lack of social distancing in its primary business district.”

In an August Small Business Pulse survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 79% of small businesses nationwide reported experiencing a moderate to large negative effect from the pandemic.

The National Retail Federation’s annual holiday spending forecast released Nov. 23 projects retail sales increasing 3.6% to 5.2% over 2019, which includes a 20% to 30% increase in online purchases. But the organization has said that retailers are increasingly pessimistic about the length of time economic recovery will take.

Since the Revitalizing Main Streets program began in June, 59 grants have been awarded across Colorado.

In a previous round of funding, the city of Colorado Springs received a grant for $22,687 to expand the Dine Out Downtown summer initiative. Construction on Friday on South Tejon Street will provide a new design for outdoor restaurant seating.

This content was originally published here.