On her commute home Jan. 6, Donna Reed, with her husband Brian and brother-in-law Scott, paused to appreciate a moment she had not felt in almost a year: leaving work before sunset.
Throughout the pandemic, the three Reeds Southside Tavern co-owners worked from dawn until midnight, finishing tasks left undone thanks to a reduced staff and cleaning the restaurant from the top down every night.
“Leaving here at 5 p.m. and getting home while it was still light out — we just looked at each other and said, 'holy cow,'” Donna said Jan. 7.
For the first time in 10 months, Donna felt like they were back to a normal schedule.
Businesses within Lone Tree's Entertainment District, south of the Park Meadows mall and east of Yosemite Street, have used different methods to weather the pandemic. No longer able to rely on attracting new customers visiting nearby attractions, including a mall, bowling alley, movie theater and indoor skydiving facility, restaurants are reimagining how they reach customers. Some have closed for good while others have found refuge in takeout and delivery.
Brian, Scott and Donna Reed own Reeds Tavern, a sports-themed bar and restaurant at 9535 Park Meadows Drive. Brothers Brian and Scott purchased the place in 2017, a perfect location for attracting movie-goers streaming out of the east exit of Regal United Artists movie theater a few feet away.
Regal United Artists closed all of its locations in October. The company could not be reached for official comment. The company Tweeted Jan. 5 that it hopes to open its New York City and Los Angeles theaters in March.
“For us, even more than the other (restaurants), that foot traffic from the movie theater was huge,” Donna said. “People would come in before the movie and come back after the movie. We've seen that drop off significantly.”
Reeds Tavern began focusing more on its social media presence, menu specials and new promotions.
“When you're in difficult times, you revitalize and renew yourself and it creates habits that last — regardless of being shut down or not,” Donna said, adding that they have seen their customer base expand as a result.
As of Jan. 8, there remains little in the way of entertainment in the district. Though looser restrictions on indoor dining seem on the horizon, attracting customers in the area will remain a challenge for business owners in the area while the movie theater and Bowlero bowling alley stay closed indefinitely.
The district's third unique entertainment draw, iFly, an indoor skydiving facility, has been able to remain open. iFly does not qualify as either an “entertainment” business or “gym,” as classified by the state. Instead, the colossal, regional attraction can operate as a “retail” business — their product literally being the wind they pump through vertical tunnels to simulate the sensation of free-falling.
“Since there hasn't been such an influx of other entertainment that are still open, that's sent a lot of new business our direction,” said Jordan Boe, iFly manager.
iFly is providing smaller class sizes and fewer people than usual—“it's still a zero-sum game,” Boe said—but the trends they have seen are encouraging. Close to 90% of their customers today are first-timers, a slight uptick from before the pandemic.
Restaurants get certification
Reeds Tavern is one of 40 Lone Tree restaurants certified under the Douglas County COVID-19 5-Star program since Dec. 21. As of Jan. 8, the program allowed businesses to reopen indoor dining service at 25% capacity under stricter safety protocols.
On Jan. 4, Gov. Jared Polis moved the entire state from level red to level orange status, permitting indoor dining at 25% for all. That same day the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that 5-Star-certified restaurants could allow dine-in service at 50% capacity following a seven-day decline of cases in their respective counties.
To Donna, that means opening two virtual golf bays instead of one, more tables and fewer people being turned away at the door.
“It also, when there's only a few tables in here because of the large space, it just doesn't feel as upbeat as when there's more customers than there are tables,” Donna said. “It creates an ambiance that people are looking for when they come to a sports tavern.”
Within their building cluster, which includes Grist Brewing Co., Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, Grillin' Wings & Things, the former Sweet Tomatoes and Exotikka Indian Dining, only Reeds Tavern, Grist and Rio Grande have 5-Star status.
Despite the pandemic, vacant buildings in the Entertainment District remain highly sought-after by investors, according to City of Lone Tree Economic Development Director Jeff Holwell. Sweet Tomatoes shuttered recently and there is strong interest in that building, Holwell said. Fox & Hound is temporarily closed. Holwell said they are keeping an eye on the status of that business, as its building is also interesting developers.
“The market's still there,” Holwell said Jan. 8. “There are still a lot of very interested people who are either looking at signing leases or are in the process of signing vacancies in the private market.”
The afternoon of Jan. 7 at Reeds Tavern could have been mistaken for a typical, slow Thursday afternoon. A few customers sat at one table. One man enjoyed a round of virtual golf. But that was as busy as things could get.
Reed, a lifelong educator, is on her third career. She joined the ownership team behind Reeds Tavern last year. Donna began dating Brian last February. The two married in May, with Donna officially taking his last name and becoming the third co-owner.
When the March shutdown orders forced all nonessential businesses to close, Donna worried the young restaurant would not survive.
“I'm seeing people who don't own restaurants but believe in restaurants…starting things to help support restaurants and really coming together as a community,” Donna Reed said. “That coming together as a community has been vital to us keeping our doors open.”
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