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WESTMINSTER — When Britney Turk reopened her small business at West 104th Avenue and Church Ranch, The Dessert Stand, in November of 2020, she found restaffing her bakery to be a challenge.

“2020 was hard,” Turk says. “We laid off staff, so when we reopened, no one was available to return to work.”

Turk and her sister, Brooke Smith, ran the bakery’s business through the 2020 COVID-19-related shutdown and subsequent layoffs.

“We just made it work,” Turk said.

Turk did not expect to have to rely on a skeleton crew throughout 2021, but she has. While she received interest from candidates, she struggled to fill positions.

“Sometimes people wouldn’t show up to interviews, or sometimes, they would come to the first shift and leave halfway through,” Turk explains.

She still can’t put her finger on why but said her business survived because of her and her sister’s tenacity.

“People depend on you to fill their orders, so you don’t have a choice,” she says. “But we were spread thin.”

Turk knows that part of the issue with finding staff is her inability as a small-business owner to offer the same wages and benefits as larger companies. She just can’t compete with larger companies in that respect, she knows. Her biggest offering, she said, is flexibility.

“As much as is humanly possible, I try to work with people’s lives,” she says.

But all of that has led her into a troubling dilemma: The business needs to be open to attract customers but can’t sustain the hours because no one is available for the work.

For want of a grease trap

Turk isn’t alone in her struggles as a small business owner. Patricia Mcguire, co-owner of Creative Corner in Westminster’s Historic Art District, is facing a similar predicament. Mcguire and her sister, Kathleen Ballard, started their coffee and craft shop in 2019.

“In 2020, we were just about to turn a profit,” Mcquire says. “Then COVID hit.”

Creative Corner survived the 2020 shutdown but business has been slow to pick back up in 2021.

“Our regulars come in for their coffee,” Mcguire says. “Sometimes, we get some foot traffic from the occasional street festivals. But most of the time, people poke their head in the shop, ask if we serve lattes and then leave when we tell them we don’t.”

The shop can’t serve lattes without an approved grease trap, according to local food and safety regulations, and the sisters can’t afford the cost of installing a grease trap.

“So, we’re currently operating on a wing and a prayer,” Ballard says with a small chuckle.

The two sisters wish they could afford staff, as well.

“We are barely able to pay our bills right now,” Ballard remarks. “Our friends come in and take up the slack.”

Grants available

The city of Westminster has a program to support small business owners and has provided generous grants.

“Small businesses and the people they employ are the lifeblood of Westminster,” said Stephanie Troller, business development manager with the city. “Since the beginning of the year, we have provided over $105,000 in direct assistance. We will continue to partner with the Westminster Chamber of Commerce to support businesses through these difficult times.”

It’s no guarantee. But neither group is giving up, and both plan to keep churning out their businesses, despite their continued hardships.

Turk has hired back some of her prior staff and anticipates better days ahead.

“We have a good crew now.”

Ballard sums up the small business world’s hope like this: “We will pull together as a community.”