Weathering the COVID-19 Storm: Advice from local businesses

Long-standing businesses in Cherry Creek North share tips and tricks for navigating the current pandemic

Photo courtesy of Adam Larkey Photography.

As any small business owner or entrepreneur knows, running a business has its ups and downs and requires tenacity, perseverance, patience and innovation on the path to continued success. The recent economic challenges triggered by COVID-19 have presented a significant threat to the small businesses in our community and around the country. While this situation is frequently acknowledged as “unprecedented,” we have much to learn from long-standing businesses that have survived past hardships and challenges.

Cherry Creek North has one of the largest concentrations of small businesses in the state. Out of the 260 retail and service businesses in the district, 70%, or just over 175, are small, locally-owned retail businesses. This includes restaurants, fashion, jewelry and home furnishing stores, spas, salons and art galleries.

Many of the small retail businesses in Cherry Creek North have been in business for 10 years or more. Included among that list is The Cherry Cricket (75 years),  Saks Galleries (55 years), Cherry Creek Custom Framing (16 years) and Syrup (10 years). Collectively, these businesses have more than 150 years of experience. They’ve weathered September 11 and withstood the Great Recession of 2008. These situations provided lessons and perspectives that the businesses are leveraging to navigate the current situation and are sharing with other businesses to provide insight and support.  

Here’s what they learned.

Look for opportunities

“Survival will depend on being agile, smart and willing to try new things,” says Tam O’Neill of Cherry Creek Custom Framing. For small businesses, this can mean pivoting your business model to provide your product and support the community in new ways.

To respond to current needs, The Cherry Cricket is offering delivery and a pay-it-forward option. “We have tried to invest in building our to-go and delivery infrastructure and to continue feeding our community – especially those in need – by creating the ‘Extra Helpings’ program,” says Lee Driscoll, owner of The Cherry Cricket. “For every to-go order you place, we will deliver a free meal to someone in our community who needs it.”

Saks Galleries is using this time to move to an e-commerce platform for those who purchase and own art, including virtual appraisal services for insurance or estate purposes.

Improve your business

With additional time on your hands, experiment and think of new ways you can improve your business. Use this time wisely. Syrup is relying on this time to develop new specials, an improved brand and plans for a new restaurant in Sloan’s Lake. In addition, Saks Galleries is seeking buying opportunities to build its inventory of historic works and collectibles, which was also their approach in 2008.

Stay the course

In order to survive tough times, it's important your company has a strong business model to rely on, knows your customers and how to serve them and, most importantly, that you stay the course.

Reflecting on the financial crisis of 2008, Driscoll says, “We observed that we could weather some pretty tough times. We believe the primary reason is that affordability and value seem to become even more important when the going gets tough. The more surprising takeaway was that the Cricket seemed to appeal to people across a wide socio-economic spectrum, we believe, because it exudes comfort and community within the restaurant and that people are reassured by those things.”

Similarly, Tom Doherty, the owner of Syrup, says, “We will stick to what got us here. Great food, awesome service, cleanliness, and serving our community.”

O’Neill recommends businesses “operate lean and avoid debt.”

Mikkel Saks of Saks Galleries reiterates this saying, “it’s easier to weather these storms if one is not overextended financially.”

Continue to communicate

“I would recommend good communication skills with your lenders, your vendors and customers,” O’Neill says. “All are part of the retail ecosystem. They need to know you intend to be there on the other side.”

Driscoll echoed the importance of communication during uncertain times, speaking to how helpful it was throughout past challenges. “We stayed in close touch with our employees and did everything we could to listen and help them. We aimed to communicate and work closely with all of our partners, from our bankers and landlords to our smallest vendors,” he says.

Advocate for small business

“As small business owners, in addition to the measures that we can take within our own four walls, we must band together as a community,” Driscoll says. “We need to advocate as vigorously as possible with our local, state and federal officials to make sure that they fully understand the challenges we face so that we can achieve equitable and efficient government action to help sustain small businesses through this uncertain time.”

Prepare for the future

Doherty speaks to the importance of using this time to prepare for re-opening to the public. “With the uncertainty of the situation, we have focused our efforts on cleaning and sanitizing our restaurants and properties. We have been working hand-in-hand with the health department and our cleaning and sanitizing vendors,” he says

Stay up to date on the latest news and take action to be prepared as businesses across the state begin to re-open.

We’re in this together

“We learned to take a deep breath, stay calm and find confidence in the fact that we are all in this together,” Driscoll says. “While we don’t know exactly how this will play out, we will get through it, just as we have in the past."


Jenny Starkey serves as the senior director of marketing and community relations for Cherry Creek North. In this role, she guides comprehensive marketing initiatives and programs, communication efforts and special events promoting Cherry Creek North, a mixed-use and retail destination in Denver.

Categories: Business Insights, COVID-19, Management & Leadership