Opinion: Disasters have their aftershocks

Every analysis related to Colorado Springs in 2012 has been affected in some way by the Waldo Canyon fire.

Every analysis related to Colorado Springs in 2012 has been affected in some way by the Waldo Canyon fire.

In today’s nonstop world of breaking news, far too often we move to the next headlines and forget yesterday’s major stories — even when they happen here among us.

Surely the residents of our area haven’t forgotten the natural disasters of the past two years. But sometimes it seems that way.

We endured the nightmare of the Waldo Canyon fire in June-July 2012, destroying 346 homes and killing two people while burning 18,000 acres and causing more than $450 million in insurance claims for property damage. Then came the Black Forest fire of June 2013, which consumed nearly 500 homes, caused two more deaths and covered 14,000-plus acres.

As if all that weren’t enough, floods struck both fires’ burn scars last summer, causing scary damage and disrupting U.S. Highway 24 in the peak tourism months of July, August and September.

What we couldn’t calculate then was the actual impact on the business community of Manitou Springs, with scores of locally owned small stores, restaurants and bars. They put up a brave front, refusing to admit defeat, acknowledging the damage but insisting they could overcome the blow.

Now, as we’re beginning to see more and more, the after-effects of that Waldo Canyon blaze, followed by the floods that tore through downtown Manitou a year later, actually are more serious than anyone could tell at the time.

Business owners would have been able to withstand just one terrible year, but not a repeat.

In the past six to nine months, small businesses in Manitou have been going broke, moving and/or closing at a steady clip. As we cover this week in our Focus package, Manitou landmarks have been affected, including the Dulcimer Shop (closed after 40 years), Adam’s Mountain Cafe (moving out of downtown), Marika’s (a popular coffee shop shut down after a real-estate transaction), Safron (a funky store now operating in other ways after being hit by the floods) and the iconic Craftwood Inn restaurant (closed due to economic woes).

It should be said that Manitou’s situation isn’t anything close to a mass exodus or a full-blown local calamity. Even as some businesses give up, other entrepreneurs and investors are willingly moving in, filling some vacancies with new concepts, stores, bars and the like, even in a few cases relocating to nearby properties less threatened by Fountain Creek. It also has been encouraging to see the transformation of the Business of Art Center into the Manitou Art Center.

But it saddens us to hear cynics suggesting that some departing businesses have failed because of mismanagement. The truth, never fully documented since the disasters began nearly two years ago, is that in practically every case, the business owners would have been able to withstand just one terrible year — but not a repeat just 12 months later.

When you’re a tourist town that thrives on the summer season of Memorial Day to Labor Day, you don’t have the luxury of being able to make up for a bad month later on. Many of Manitou’s businesses have been able to survive, but attrition has arrived and the reality is that many are shuddering at the thought of what might transpire this summer.

In a rebounding economy, Manitou Springs would settle for no major fire or weather headlines in 2014. That alone would help the town regain its stride, more than anything else.