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New Mexico Distillery Owners Discuss Closing Their Business Because Of COVID-19

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now we bring you the story of a family who, like so many others, are feeling the weight of this pandemic. Over the summer, we met Matt and Susan Simonds. We were on a reporting trip in Albuquerque, N.M. Matt owns a bar. It's a distillery and tap room that's called Broken Trail Spirits & Brew. He was forced to temporarily shut down when the governor first closed restaurants to keep people safe.

MATT SIMONDS: A small business is a person with a family. And I've, you know, spent endless nights doing construction and distilling and planning. I've probably spent more time at the distillery than I have with my wife over the last six years. Part of you is - like, that's taken a part of you away.

GREENE: Have you been able to keep the business going, like, with to-go and selling bottles? And...

M SIMONDS: I mean, we're trying.

GREENE: How long do you think you can go if this keeps going?

M SIMONDS: I'd be lucky if we have another month. You know, that's just how fast we're burning through cash.

SUSAN SIMONDS: It is tough to watch Matt go through this because it is a dream, and I'm watching it slowly shatter. And you're seeing how that falls apart right here, and it is heartbreaking to watch.

GREENE: It's been four months since we visited the Simonds in Albuquerque. The state reopened bars there for a time but then shut them down again in this current surge of COVID-19. And Matt felt he had no choice but to close his doors for good. I reached him and Susan this week, and I asked Matt if this recent spike in cases and the new restrictions really forced his hand.

M SIMONDS: The writing was definitely on the wall, but the closure was the nail in the coffin. There's just really no opportunity for our type of business to recuperate all the costs that we have and never went away.

GREENE: Can you take me to the moment when you told your staff that you finally had to make this decision?

M SIMONDS: We were down to a staff of three people, and these are employees that have been with me. Some of them have family at home. And more than anything, they believed in me. And yeah, there's a sense of failure.

GREENE: I don't think you should feel like a failure.

S SIMONDS: I don't think he should either. I don't think it's his fault. These are circumstances beyond what any of us could have foreseen. And, you know, we're not the only business failing.

M SIMONDS: The part that gets me is this isn't just my livelihood, but this is staff. This is my suppliers, people that have relied on me to order ingredients, to order supplies. And it's not just me. It's businesses across the city and the state and the country that are all facing down the same barrel. And what could I have done differently to protect all these people?

GREENE: Susan, what have you been telling Matt through all of this to get through this together?

S SIMONDS: I mean, it's been a variety of things. It's partly to let him know if I think he's making the right decisions and being a sounding board for what do we do and when. You know, Matt has had the thought of, OK, so if I get out of this business, what am I going to do? And, you know, I've tried to be encouraging of, you know, you had dreams in times past of doing this thing or this other thing. Like, OK, well, let's - you know, let's do that. Let's - you thought about being a teacher. Take the classes you have to take to be certified to do that. And we don't have to go for something risky or new business. Let's just try to destress some before we pick up anything else.

So, yeah, I've spent my time trying to give Matt the space that he needs. He's building a canoe in our garage. And my first thought was all the things we don't have done in this house and you're building a canoe. But at the same time, I understand it. It is - he likes to work with his hands. He's good at woodworking. And this is something he can build. And you - I mean, as it gets built, you see progress. There's a lot there. And it's something that he can look at and say, I did this, and it was successful. He has a piece that is working for him.

M SIMONDS: Mind you, we're also in a landlocked state in the middle of a drought (laughter).

S SIMONDS: Right. Yeah, there's not a lot of place to use a canoe around here.

GREENE: There's not enough place to use the canoe.

M SIMONDS: (Laughter).

GREENE: But it sounds like that's important to you to build that thing, Matt.

M SIMONDS: I think there's a sense of control. Don't get me wrong. There's plenty of mistakes and plenty of screw-ups on it. But I know that they're my mistakes. And with woodworking, with working with your hands, crafting, working in the garden outside, there's a sense that this is mine. No government can shut this down.

GREENE: I want to ask both of you, you know, as we get into the holiday season, what do you - how are you both reflecting on everything that you've been through this year?

M SIMONDS: I think for me, it's a time to slow down, to sit with people that you care about more than anything in the world and remembering what's important.

GREENE: Susan.

S SIMONDS: I was actually thinking about it this morning of what am I thankful for this year, especially with how crappy this year has been? And I can say it without a doubt that we are together and we are still healthy and we are surviving this even though the business doesn't. And that comes with other pain. While we've lost this business, we are still very blessed.

GREENE: Well, listen, I feel lucky to have met both of you this year. You are - you're truly inspiring, and your strength is really something. So best to you. Best to your daughters. And hopefully we can catch up again soon.

M SIMONDS: Well, I appreciate this latest episode of couples therapy.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: That was Matt and Susan Simonds of Albuquerque, N.M.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEODORE SHAPIRO, JOSE GONZALEZ, MARK GRAHAM'S "QUINTESSENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.