For a nation that prides itself on boasting a citizenry bursting with imagination, it seems that almost none of us dreamed that this could really happen to us.
Even though we’ve watched other parts of the world buckle and buckle down under the threat of SARS, MERS, Ebola, Swine Flu and Bird Flu viruses, so many clearly never entertained what life and society would be like in virtual hiding.
Just days past a short period of shock, Aurora residents are reeling, and adjusting to a life under lockdown. Here’s how the pandemic crisis is affecting some of your neighbors.
Big plans delayed
Lupita Villareal, owner of KCJ Painting, Cleaning and Landscape & Academia de Ballet Folklórico Nezahualcoyotl
This spring, Lupita Villareal was supposed to buy a new lawnmower.
The mother of three had been saving for several months to buy the key piece of equipment to get her new cleaning, painting and landscaping business ready to take on more work this summer.
Instead, she’s focused on buying bread.
“I’ll be focusing on seeing if I can get more business for my cleaning company, trying to bring some sort of bread to the house,” the longtime Aurora resident said last week. “The bills won’t stop coming. Unfortunately, they’re not going to give us a break. But we’re taking it one day at a time.”
A Mexican native who grew up in El Paso, Texas, Villareal launched KCJ Painting, Cleaning and Landscape in October after several years of cleaning rooms at a local hotel.
“I was like, ‘I should open my own company to be on my own schedule,” she said with a chuckle. “And it’s been steady. We’re not making millions of dollars, but it’s been steady. Now everything has stopped.”
Like umpteen residents around the metroplex, Villareal is scrambling to adjust to a mercurial economy that has left business owners like her in the lurch.
“I have to use all the savings I was trying to invest into landscaping … I have to provide my kids with food,” she said. “That’s going to be a little hole, but as long as I can be able to clean houses here and there, I think we’ll be able to make that money back.”
In the meantime, Villareal is rejiggering rehearsals for her longtime passion project, Academia de Ballet Folklórico Nezahualcoyotl, which rehearses in the Aurora Cultural Arts District studio building on Dallas Street.
A staple of the city’s art scene for nearly two decades, the local dance troupe is shifting to online video tutorials so dancers will be ready to perform at upcoming competitions across the Mountain West, many of which have been optimistically reset for later in the year, Villareal said.
“This is going to be like renewing everything,” she said. “We’ll be starting from scratch with everything, with new events, new preparation, new everything.”
She said she’s hopeful her dozens of students will learn the new dances while she readies new costumes.
“When we get back, they know they’re supposed to know the dances,” she said.
“I should be able to play the music and they should be able to dance it … We’re just trying to get prepared for better things to come.”
— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer
Boss at home
Victor Fernando, owner of Aurora Liquors
Like so many Americans, Victor Fernando’s commute has grown a bit shorter in recent weeks.
Instead of driving from his Parker home to his local bottle shop, Aurora Liquors on South Havana Street, he meanders from his bedroom to his home office to begin the day’s work.
From there, he runs his business by balancing books, exchanging calls and messages with his two employees, placing orders with distributors, and keeping tabs on his store through footage provided by 16 security cameras.
Family members and doctors two weeks ago instructed Fernando, now 71, to stay home to limit his exposure with customers in an effort to reduce his chances of contracting the new coronavirus.
Despite the increased distance, Fernando said his business — part of an industry that is often seen as “recession-proof” — is humming more or less normally amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More beers are moving and other regular customers used to buying spirits, they continue,” the former banker said. “This weekend’s sales compared to the previous weekend were a little bit lower, but nevertheless our regular customers have been coming.”
The slight dip could be due to reduced hours at the shop, which Fernando, a native of Sri Lanka, has operated for about three years. He instructed employees to close at 9 p.m. instead of 12 a.m. several weeks ago.
Still, he said he expects to be able to pay his employees and keep the lights on for the foreseeable future. He said he thinks distributors, too, will be understanding should he encounter any financial hiccups.
“I believe they will cooperate with us,” he said.
Though he’s used his increased time at home to work on his business taxes, speak with relatives in Sri Lanka and work out on exercise machines in his basement, he said he misses his outpost across from Common Ground Golf Course.
“It’s almost like a second home when you work for 12 or 13 hours a day,” he said. “You miss that. You definitely feel it.”
— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer
Craig Bond, executive director of Vintage Theatre Productions
Craig Bond’s 50th birthday earlier this month didn’t go quite as he had planned.
The founder of Aurora’s Vintage Theatre was slated to stage 22 of his favorite scenes from various performances he had helped see to fruition over two decades. Dozens of friends and peers were prepared to breathe life into vignettes from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Sunset Boulevard” and myriad others.
But like so many people who had grand plans for March, Bond was forced to shelve his intentions due to the cataclysmic reverberations the new coronavirus has injected into society.
“Hopefully we’ll have sort of a six-month anniversary,” he said of his birthday celebration plans.
In the meantime, Bond will be busy remotely preparing for the Vintage’s next scheduled show, “Shakespeare in Love,” which will take the stage whenever state officials deem it’s safe for people to re-engage with area theaters, he said. The theater formally closed March 13.
“Most of the cast of 23 have all committed to open that show whether it’s May, June, July, August — it doesn’t matter,” Bond said. “Even in this time where it’s kind of quiet, we’re taking it to our advantage to get primed and ready.”
Costume designers are still cranking out pieces, set designers are readying supplies and actors are perfecting their lines. The show’s leads, Mariel Goffredi (Viola) and Alex Niforatos (Will Shakespeare), are continuing to practice their sonnets via Facetime each night, Bond said.
Whenever it hits the stage at 1468 Dayton St., the performance will assume a unique resonance for Bond, whose 13-year-old son will formally take the stage as part of the ensemble for the first time.
“It’s been rewarding as a dad as well as the founder to be working with my son,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Until opening night, Bond will be helping both of his boys with their virtual lessons and penning grants for the Vintage and the Denver Waldorf School, where he also works as development director.
He said the skills he’s built as a professional grant writer have helped keep the Vintage’s coffers healthy in recent years and ready them for any potential economic downturns. The company is currently working toward buying the theater from the city, which has owned the facility for the past several years. Already two years into the process, the sale may now be delayed until the end of the year, Bond said.
Even so, the New York native said he’s optimistic patrons will buoy the artistic community once restrictions are lifted later this year.
“I think it’s going to be a huge fall for us,” he said. “It should be that people are itching to get out of their house and really ready to support the arts.”
The company is tinkering with the remaining shows of its season with plans to swap some headier titles for lighter fare.
“I think we are going to take ‘Angels In America’ off the docket and try to give people a sense of relief,” he said. “We’ve always been about ‘the show must go on,’ and right now we’re just taking an extended intermission.”
— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer
Scott McCormick, Creative Designer and Bronwyn Hockersmith, Somatic Therapist
There is nothing in recent history that compares to the lives we have these days. And there is a laundry list of adaptations we are having to make, many on the fly.
With working from home becoming almost mandatory, most of us are confined to four walls — often with another person, and even a child. A situation that is foreign to almost all of America’s workforce.
In this trying time, Scott McCormick and Bronwyn Hockersmith are no exception.
Brownwyn works as a somatic therapist, working with a population that has experienced life transitions, trauma and anxiety in young adults. While behavioral health care is considered essential during the stay at home order, therapy sessions typically are held in confined spaces. It only makes sense to give sessions through teletherapy.
There have been ups and downs to giving therapy sessions through a webcam. Somatic therapy is heavily reliant on being able to see body movements during the session. When you are restricted to only being able to see the entire body of the client, it is hard to gauge their responses. The client can also see themselves, giving them more awareness of their physical behavior and control, giving less control of the situation for the therapist.
There have been some minor difficulties with adapting to the new method as well. The technology gets in the way sometimes.
“I think some of the frustrations with technology is annoying,” Hockersmith said. “If someone loses WiFi, it puts a break in the conversation and flow.”
Hockersmith said that despite the minor snags, a lot of people have been open and really willing to do it. And while private payers have decreased their sessions, insurance clients have greatly increased — some patients doubling their sessions to weekly.
Scott is keeping busy as well, although his line of work has not been able to transition as smoothly as his partners.
Owner of McCormick Photos and Design, he describes his work as all of the roles of a large agency in one person. A creative agency that assists in content and brand development with photography design and marketing. His work is well-known and can be seen around Denver and the metro area, including the wall sized murals at all of the Atomic Cowboy and Denver Biscuit Co. restaurants.
A man of many hats, McCormick says of his regular routine, “it ebbs and flows. For six months I’ll just be working on photography stuff and work on logos the next six.”
And while he is currently working on a few projects after having to pivot a little, “There is no end in sight,” for the seven or eight projects he is working on. “They’ve come to a halt.”
“I’m a little screwed, ya know? No one wants to spend money.”
To keep the creative juices flowing, McCormick has been offering free album covers to musicians who are making albums at home to earn a little scratch. But it isn’t enough.
“The air is heavy and not conducive for creative thought,” McCormick noted of the current social atmosphere. “All I want to do is everything and all I can do is nothing.”
Like the rest of us, they were not immune to having to cancel plans and vacations. The two had planned on visiting North Carolina for a family reunion and also entertained the idea of going camping several times, possibly Moab, Utah.
And even though camping is the ideal social distancing practice, McCormick made a good point.
“What if they shut the borders? Don’t want to get stuck in Utah with 3.2 percent beer.”
You wake up every morning, and ask what it is you can do today, McCormick mentioned while enjoying breakfast consisting of a plate of bacon while Frozen played in the background for he and Hockersmith’s 21-month old daughter, Finnley.
To pass the time they are teaching their kid to talk and watching way too many movies, he said jokingly. The two have started a workout regimen and have found joy in house projects like painting walls and building a shed.
“The feeling of accomplishment is hard to come by,” McCormick said, seeing instant gratification as a motivation to get stuff done around the house.
The balance of their lives that flip back and forth between the garage, which serves as McCormick’s studio and office, has opened up distancing in their own house. Used to having a nanny, it is a bit difficult to trade off responsibility for an almost two-year old. But through that, the two are trying to remain cognizant in saying “This can’t divide us,” and are working to maintain a healthy relationship.
“I don’t want to feel like we have to flee from our home for our own sanity,” McCormick said.
— PHILIP B. POSTON, Staff Writer
Allison Hiltz, Aurora City Councilwoman
There are a lot of unknowns that come along with having a baby. Global pandemics are not typically among them.
“Everyone says don’t invest too heavily into how you think things will go, but typically that’s in terms of how the birthing process goes,” said Aurora City Councilwoman Allison Hiltz, who is due to have her first baby in early April. “You don’t expect to run into a global pandemic that results in states sheltering in place and socially distancing and all of that stuff.”
Just a month ago Hiltz was focused on getting a maternity leave policy for elected city officials, one that allows accommodations such as appearing remotely for special meetings and executive sessions. The lawmakers cemented their support for the new rule in late February, before it was decided that meetings would be remote to comply with social distancing recommendations set by the CDC.
Now, Hiltz is focused on how the city is responding to the pandemic.
“I’m focused on what we’re going to do as a city because regardless of what’s happening to me personally, we have people who are scared and have tested positive (for COVID-19) and how we’re going to navigate that,” she said. “That part you just have to put your head down and do the work and move forward.”
As for her pregnancy, she’s taking that one day at a time.
“With everything changing so quickly and especially in Colorado on a day to day basis, there’s no way to emotionally prepare yourself for all changes,” she said. “The important thing is we go home safe, and I’m sure that will happen.”
Navigating the health care system has been mostly normal, she said. But because of clinic closures her doctor was changed at the last minute and now her husband is no longer allowed to attend her doctor’s appointments.
Hiltz fears he won’t be able to be in the room when she delivers the baby. That’s become protocol at hospitals in places that have been hit hard by the pandemic, like New York City.
The support system she planned to have after the birth has probably been the biggest change. Hiltz was expecting her mom to come to Colorado and stay for a while, but now traveling seems like too big of a risk.
“I went into this knowing I will have support in town and family coming in town and this existing support structure to navigate being a first-time mom. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen but it changes who is going to be there to support,” she said. “Other people have stepped up to step in and offer their help and support knowing that my plans were completely thrown out the window.”
— KARA MASON, Staff Writer