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Montrose Restaurants Team with City & Colorado Yurt Co. to ‘Tipi the Town’

Gavin Dahl

Restaurants and bars are teaming up with the City of Montrose and Colorado Yurt Company to "tipi the town" in the face of COVID-19 public health restrictions. KVNF's Gavin Dahl learns more from Montrose grants coordinator Kendall Cramer, Colorado Yurt CEO John Gibson, Storm King co-owner and distiller David Fishering, and Jimmers BBQ owner Jim LaRue. 

Restaurants Team With City of Montrose & Colorado Yurt to ‘Tipi the Town’
By Gavin Dahl, KVNF News

The City of Montrose was looking for innovative ways to help out area restaurants and bars facing capacity restrictions due to COVID. Colorado Yurt Company suggested a unique idea.

John: “We turned to what we had, which were some tipis in stock that were painted and would make a great structure for a dining table and we pitched the idea, literally, to tipi the town.”

Colorado Yurt CEO John Gibson offered to donate the rental of the tipis at no charge to help out local restaurants. The city is using a small portion of its million dollar share of CARES Act funds to pay Colorado Yurt to install them.

Storm King co-owner and head distiller David Fishering was in when he heard the idea. Over the summer, the city helped out with loans to small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

David: “From the get-go since March the City’s been very proactive.”

Montrose Grants Coordinator Kendall Cramer says any CARES Act funding unused by the end of December would have to be returned to the Treasury Department, so the City has now decided to forgive those loans, and…

Kendall: “In addition to the tipi program, we used it for eligible purposes including our childcare and nonprofit grant program. 38 or 40 different entities that we funded. Effectively used these funds. We have them all accounted for. We’ve been able to keep that 1.1 million dollars in our community.”

Whether or not Congress approves any additional relief funds, city revenues rely on a robust sales tax base. That means restaurant owners and city officials alike have a shared economic interest in keeping downtown Montrose a vibrant place.

Business at Jimmers BBQ took a bit hit during the lockdown in the spring, but owner Jim LaRue says despite COVID they built back up some momentum over the summer.

Jim: “Well for us Gavin it’s been a halfway decent year at least during the tourist season.”

Things were even better this summer at Storm King, where 80 percent of revenues originate with retail sales on the premises.

David: “And then as soon as the weather turned cold, we hit a wall.”

No holiday party revelers filling up the distillery. No orders for BBQ catering at large gatherings. Tipis have an immediate impact on how many customers Jimmers and Storm King can serve.

David: “Right now the way we’ve got them setup, lounge style with adirondack chairs, replaces the 12 seats that would normally be at our bar.”

David: “They’re basically just an extension of our existing patio space. You know, they’re covered, we’re getting heaters put in there.”

Jim: “Right now we’re cut back to 25 percent in our location that put us down to 50 people.”

Jim: “You know, that gives us 24 more seats, because we can seperate people in groups of 8 out there. We’re hoping that it’s going to be an excellent addition to our wintertime revenue here.”

The tipi experiment fits guidelines for spending federal relief dollars, whereas permanent capital infrastructure projects generally wouldn’t.

Kendall: “The City of Montrose, we want to be innovative and we also want to find ways to assist our local businesses through this difficult time. So this is just a means for them to dine there, to grab a drink, to grab a bite to eat, in a safe way.”

Jimmers, Storm King, Horsefly Brewing, and Light House Eatery are still finalizing their tipi setups, with lights, and heaters. Jimmers will start taking reservations for tipi seating next week. Meanwhile, planning has begun to market the project to locals as a collection of experiences.

David: “A couple of us got together the other day and we’re thinking of starting a tipi tour.”

That could mean gathering stamps or punches on a card, with a chance to score prizes once you’ve supported each participating business. Fishering hopes to launch that effort around New Year’s to add some hype. Jimmers may offer special drinks or recipes just for the tipi diners.

Jim: “I hope that people will come out and use them and we’re planning out some different menu options and trying to make things fun for people. Let’s give it a shot.”

Gibson says Colorado Yurt Company employees are ecstatic with the feedback they’re getting in the community and he ate dinner in one of the tipis for the first time Wednesday night, outside of Rio Bravo Mexican Restaurant.

John: “Had a great experience. It was a lot of fun.”

He says it fills him with pride to see their products around town and it makes them feel good to be part of a fun project in such a difficult time. Colorado Yurt isn’t in a rush to get the tipis back.

John: “Right now we have left the door open to them to keep them all the way until Memorial Day if that’s appropriate for them. If the pandemic continues and we have to extend it past that, I think we’re happy to do that at this point.”

David: “As soon as they went up, the first thing we said was we hope we get to keep these things for the summer.”

For Storm King, they mean more seating during the pandemic and they’re also a tourist attraction. This week multiple out-of-towners have stopped in to inquire about the tipis, some not knowing they were walking into a distillery. I asked David Fishering if they stayed to buy a drink.

David: “They did.”

Gavin Dahl is a writer and producer with a passion for community media. He worked for KVNF from July 2020 to July 2022. He won awards and recognition for his KVNF reporting from the Colorado Broadcasters Association and Society of Professional Journalists. His writing has been published by The Montrose Press, The Sopris Sun, Boulder Weekly, Raw Story, Radio Survivor, Boise Weekly, and The Austin American-Statesman. He graduated from The Evergreen State College with a BA in media production and community organizing.
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