Jacob Payne, front office manager for the Main Management Corporation, answers a phone Friday at SpringHill Suites in downtown Grand Junction. Payne usually manages the Hampton Inn and Tru by Hilton Hotel in the downtown area but was moved to SpringHill due to the need for management since the coronavirus hit.

Three out of the four large hotels in downtown Grand Junction owned by Kevin and Steve Reimer are closed. The one still operating, SpringHill Suites, is at about 25% capacity. On a good day.

Across town at the Super 8 Hotel on Horizon Drive near the Interstate 70 interchange, the 130-room complex had just nine rooms occupied on Tuesday.

Hotels are exempt from Gov. Jared Polis’s stay-at-home order that runs through April 11 in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. But, like restaurants, the industry is suffering through a stretch that has brought about a significant reduction in staff as they sit nearly empty on most days.

With the cancellation of multiple events locally that typically bring in hordes of out-of-town guests and the current level of uncertainty as to when the crisis might abate, this rough patch could continue through the end of the year, according to at least one owner.

“I anticipate a very difficult year,” said Kevin Reimer, who owns the SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inn and Tru Hotel downtown.

The hotel group has furloughed more than half of its staff and Reimer doesn’t believe the three closed hotels will open in the very near future, believing that the decisions will come in May or June. Events that were slated for around this time or in the summer that have already decided to cancel are not coming back in 2020, he said.

While he hopes that the pent-up desire to travel will bring people to town once the crisis is over, he fears that the busiest time of the year will be largely lost, with things becoming more normal during the slower months.

“We will miss out on profitable quarters and will have to struggle through traditional slow times in the winter,” he said. “I hate to be that pessimistic, but that’s what we’re preparing for.”

Robert Feeley, who owns the Super 8 hotels in Grand Junction and Fruita, along with another in Green River, Utah, agrees with Reimer that 2020 is shaping up as a very tough year. He’s trying to stay optimistic that the summer will rebound.

“I think it could be a tough year. I don’t know about the rest. If I had a crystal ball, I could tell you,” he said.

He added that if things continue as is for an extended period, he could look at shutting down temporarily.

“If it keeps going we will need to shut down,” he said. “But I’m an optimist.”

Both hotels have implemented safety precautions to keep both staff and guests as low-risk as possible.

At SpringHill Suites, the breakfast selection has become a to-go bag instead of a breakfast buffet. Extra hand sanitizing stations have popped up around the hotel and the pool and exercise facility are closed.

Due to the low occupancy, the hotel is able to put new guests into rooms that have been clean and vacant for at least 24 hours. Staff is wearing gloves at all times and maintaining spacing at the front desk.

Reimer said the hotel has a couple of extended stay guests and has spoken with the health department about allowing health care providers to stay in the hotel if they have helped treat COVID-19 patients and don’t want to risk infecting their families.

At the local Super 8 hotels, breakfast is no longer being served and staff is being kept at a minimum. Maintenance staff is not coming in unless needed. Feeley is keeping the laundry and housekeeping staff limited and only around 30 rooms in one wing are open at the moment in Grand Junction. Three front desk workers come in in shifts to cover 24 hours.

The hotels also have a machine that can treat rooms with hydrogen peroxide.

The locations are limiting guests to one night per stay. Feeley said he could make exceptions if, for example, someone was working in health care or visiting a sick relative in the hospital.

“There should be no need for a long-term stay and they shouldn’t be out anyway,” he said. “It should only be a point of emergency.”

Feeley said that while he’s looked at closing down temporarily, he’s in OK shape as his family has owned their properties for a long time and the business doesn’t have much debt.

Reimer said he’s grateful that the city has allowed the business to keep the most recent sales tax payment for now and hopes the county might consider the same. He’s also concerned about paying property taxes at the end of April. He’s applied for relief through the CARES Act, recently passed by Congress, but doesn’t yet have a clear picture of what he can or will receive.

There are two options of paying property tax if it is not handled by a bank. One is to make two payments by the ends of February and June or one payment by the end of April.

“It will be difficult to come up with that cash and still have money to make payroll or reopen,” Reimer said.

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with other local organizations, is advocating on behalf of businesses to have the ability to defer county sales and property taxes for up to 60 days.

“That would at least give them some breathing room,” chamber President and CEO Diane Schwenke said.

Currently, any business that has not paid its February property tax payment can pay without late interest, per an executive order from the governor. On Friday he set May 1 as a date for half payments with the second half being paid at the end of June. This means those who intended to pay the full amount by April 30 could pay half of their tax by May 1 and pay the second half in June.