By Conor McCue

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (CBS4) – Broomfield is the first Denver metro area county to move to Level Blue on the state’s COVID-19 dial. Under Level Blue, restaurants, gyms, and indoor events can operate at 50% capacity, or up to 175 people inside, whichever is fewer. Restaurants can also have unlimited capacity outdoors, and last call can now be midnight.

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The county announced the change was effective Monday, Feb. 22. At the North Side Tavern, the changes meant capacity immediately increased from 50 guests to 67.

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“That extra 17 people does make a huge difference for us,” said North Side Tavern owner, Steve Bauer.

For Bauer, it’s a huge improvement from the beginning of December, when he closed his doors as cases rose and restrictions tightened. It wasn’t until 10 days ago he felt safe enough to hire back staff and welcome customers.

Bauer tells CBS4 the re-opening has been a huge success so far. This week he gave each employee a bonus to make up for some of the money they lost over the two-and-a-half months the restaurant stayed closed.

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“We had the busiest Saturday we’ve ever had this past Saturday, and this last week was a record week for us all time,” Bauer said.

Restaurants are among the many types of businesses in Broomfield that will now benefit with higher capacities under Level Blue. Broomfield Mayor Pat Quinn credits the county’s decreasing COVID-19 numbers and high vaccination rate, relative to other metro counties.

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“Two to three months ago, I was cautious about moving down a level,” Quinn said. “My view is the trends are where they need to be.”

Charlene Duran, who recently received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine was one of many regulars at the tavern Tuesday. She called it “a relief” to be at a table with her quilting group again.

“It feels like we’re getting back to normal,” Duran said.

Bauer says all the same safety precautions from earlier restriction levels remain in place, including socially distanced tables with partitions in between them. He’s confident regular customers will keep coming back.

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“They trust us and they’re coming back to us and I love it,” Bauer said.

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The North Side Tavern chose not to be part of Broomfield’s version of a 5-Star Program, called “Back to Business,” but according to the city’s website, 48 businesses are. Quinn said businesses participating in the program cannot operate under Level Green restrictions.

Conor McCue