Small Businesses Rally But They Need Help

May is the month when the U.S. Small Business Administration celebrates National Small Business Week. Not this year. Like nearly all events, it, too, has been postponed.

May is also the month when The Business Journal and our sponsors ask readers and the general public to Rally Around Small Business. But this year, amid unprecedented government ordered shutdowns to tame the spread of the deadly coronavirus, many companies are fighting for their very survival.

So we asked readers to relate their experiences with federal relief programs. What follows is feedback from four small businesses, a nonprofit and sole proprietor.

A Glimmer of Hope

At Buckeye Tent & Party Rentals in Youngstown, Timothy Patrick feels as if he were given a last-minute reprieve from disaster. 

His rollercoaster ride of emotions began when widespread concern over COVID-19 picked up speed in early March. The ride stopped April 20 when $10,000 was deposited into his business account from the emergency disaster loan program.

 “That’s how I found out,” he says with elation while exhaling in relief. 

He applied as soon as the applications became available, spending four hours completing the online form. Although he received confirmation the application was received, the federal website crashed. He again applied online with the government’s revised, shortened form, and received notice that it was received.

And he waited. And he called the Small Business Administration. But he was never given a status update. 

When the state implemented measures to control the virus from spreading, Patrick was facing an 85% loss in revenue from major rental events such as St. Patrick’s Day, graduation parties and other seasonal parties. Now it appears large gatherings might be restricted for the rest of the year.

 Despite the uncertainty, he is determined to do whatever it takes to not go out of business, including getting a job in addition to operating his business once again from his garage.

Ducks in a Row

Vince Holko, co-owner of Holko Enercon Inc., credits his company’s loan officer at Cortland Bank for navigating his company in applying for the Paycheck Protection Program. Being able to work closely with a community bank that was educated about the federal programs and provided frequent communication made the process easier, according to Holko.

 “Our application was submitted and approved on April 7, and the loan was in our account a week later. The key is to have all your ducks in a row and to make sure you provide complete documentation as requested,” Holko says. “I was surprised by how quickly everything transpired.”

Holko Enercon is a building materials and commercial roofing company based in Fowler. The company remains open as an essential business under the stay-at-home order, but phone calls stopped, some projects were postponed indefinitely, leading to erratic work schedules. Holko says without quick access to funds, his company was in jeopardy. 

“For our employees, this will ensure a steady paycheck and continued benefits for them to carry through these uncertain times and avoid financial hardships for the next couple of months,” Holko says.

A Dark Reality

The owner of All American Cards & Comics in Warren, Greg Bartholomew, states he is still waiting to hear about his $10,000 emergency disaster loan application. When he heard of larger companies receiving millions of dollars, he soured on the government’s efforts.

“I’m not sure why any of us thought we would get a penny, let alone two pennies, when this pretty much just filled rich people with more ‘grease money’ for the fall election,” Bartholomew says. 

The novelty-store owner is angry that larger companies received a huge chunk of the relief money. And he’s not alone. 

Karen Kerrigan, president of the advocacy group Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, says the program is flawed and has obsolete rules. 

“Some of these rules and provisions disproportionately hurt the chances of the smallest of businesses accessing this capital, or not getting sufficient and proportionate relief to help salvage their businesses,” she told the Associated Press.

‘Will Have to Close by Summer’

Mary Louk, board president for Animal Charity of Ohio, recently learned it did not get funding – at least not yet – through the Paycheck Protection Program. Animal Charity of Ohio is a nonprofit organization and the humane society for Mahoning County.

“If this continues much longer, we will have to close by summer if we don’t get assistance,” Louk says. 

The nonprofit provides Mahoning County’s only humane officer to investigate complaints about animal abuse. Mahoning’s dog warden operation is funded through the county. Animal Charity relies on revenue from its veterinary clinic, donations and fundraisers.

Louk has laid off 12 of its staff of 20. Animal Charity has two sites: one shelters dogs; the other cats and operates as a clinic, performing low-cost spaying and neutering surgeries and vaccinations. Both would close. The 50 animals available for adoption or fostering would have to be transferred to available shelters.

Animal Charity went through a local bank to apply for a PPP loan. She says the bank did a great job in helping with the application. While she understands the urgent need, the rushed roll-out of the program was a mess, Louk observes.

 “I wish the government would have taken some time instead of rushing something through. They would have been better off to take a few extra days and made sure it was right.” she says.

‘Don’t Know How Long I Can Go’

Shannon Shugart started PurYoga in Boardman five years ago. She recently added another studio in Howland and then she had to close.

She applied online for an emergency disaster loan. She hasn’t received a status update, and fears none of the U.S. Small Business Administration programs will cover her because she is a sole proprietor. Her yoga instructors are  independent contractors. 

Temporary federal changes now allow people who are self-employed to receive unemployment. But those funds won’t be available until mid-May because Ohio has to build a system for the newly allowed claims. State officials urge patience and say that payments will be backdated. 

 “I just did a $100,000 build out and while many creditors have been cooperative about deferring payments, I don’t know how long I can go without revenue coming in,” Shugart says. “I have put my life savings into this. My house, loans and I stand to lose it all.”

‘The Right Thing to Do’

Jessica Oates opened Insight Clinical Counseling & Wellness in East Liverpool March 2. Just two weeks later she transitioned to her home, holding telehealth conferences with patients.

Despite having a healthy caseload of patients, she was in the last stages of becoming registered in a variety of insurance plans for patients to be covered and for her to be reimbursed. But that was for face-to-face sessions. 

She doesn’t qualify for PPP because she hasn’t been in business one year. Her bank said it could apply for an emergency disaster loan as long as her account was opened as of Feb. 15. She opened it Feb. 17.

 “I literally fall through the cracks of every possible solution [government officials] are trying to do,” she says.

Despite the uncertainty of payment for her telehealth sessions, she is still providing the care her patients need. 

 “I’m not going to abandon my clients when they most need it during this crisis,” she says. “I’ll figure it out later because it’s the right thing to do.”