This week, the Herald Democrat presents Leadville-Lake County’s Best of 2019.

The newspaper’s staff was starting to tally the results of our annual Best Of poll when COVID-19 hit Colorado. We pushed aside the competition’s print and web ballots, stifled our jokes about those who voted for themselves multiple times (yes, we can see your duplicate votes) and funneled all of our energy towards virus coverage.

A month later, the Herald picked the publication up again. We finished counting results, contacted winners virtually and collected photographs for the publication’s pages via email.

The newspaper resumed work on Best Of because we believed it was a way to lift the community’s spirits in a time of hardship. And though this stands true, it is impossible to read the publication without thinking about all the ways our world has changed.

Lake County residents voted in Best Of before the pandemic took root in Colorado’s high country. It was normal for voters to dream up summer plans as they filled out the Herald’s survey: concerts at the Tabor Opera House, a plate of tikka masala and dal from a Boom Days food vendor and family outings at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery.

None of those things seem “normal” now. As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to seep through our community, Leadville-Lake County’s Best of 2019 is a reminder of the differences in life before and during a pandemic.

Climax Mine, voted best employer, is now reducing operations to 50% due to a global downturn in molybdenum demand.

Full Circle of Lake County, voted best nonprofit, is dedicating much of its time to COVID-19 relief instead of in-person youth programming.

The Board of County Commissioners’ decision to not challenge the red-flag law was voted as the best government action in 2019. We wonder if locals will pick the county’s or city’s response to COVID-19 in the 2020 competition.

And affordable housing, voted best move for economic development? It now seems like a distant hope as Lake County figures out how to safely restart our increasingly tourism-based economy.

Boom Days, voted best tradition, local event, parade and race, will take place with no parade and no pack burro race.

Voters’ favorite school, Lake County High School, is gearing up for a virtual graduation ceremony and Freight, voted best place to party, is advertising “intimate” weddings of 25-50 people for the fall season.

Then there are the businesses voted as local favorites, establishments that keep Harrison Avenue alive, our bodies nourished and our cars and houses running.

Some like City on a Hill and the Manhattan Bar, voted best coffee shop and bar respectively, have profoundly felt the impacts of COVID-19 with prolonged shutdowns. Others like Melanzana, voted best local product and long-time business, have altered services to respond to the pandemic. And many, like Ryan’s Performance Motors, voted best auto repair shop, have remained open as essential businesses with enhanced cleaning protocols.

For people, this range of normalcy is widely the same. Leo Schmitt and Lisa Zwerdlinger, voted best firefighter and best medical doctor, continue to work as usual, if not more, while Janet Azeltine and Jesse King, best server and bartender, have seen their jobs transform in the blink of an eye.

However, there is one category, the best hope for 2020, that a pandemic does not change: peace and kindness.

Rachel Woolworth

Herald Editor

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