Some entrepreneurs are turning to the community for help
By Andrew Belfry
Many small businesses in East Greenwich have been forced to alter revenue streams, provide services virtually and in many instances lay off their entire staff.
One such business is Allegra Marketing Print Mail which has seen a reduction in business by up to 90 percent, according to owner Stanley Reuter.
“One business depends on another business,” Reuter said. “There’s just no demand. It’s the worst situation I’ve ever been in in my entire life.”
While the business is unable to generate enough revenue to pay his employees, Reuter has applied for a Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loan from the Small Business Administration, or SBA. The loan would provide the business with two and half months of payroll. However, the program has run out of money this week and Reuter has not received any indication if his request has been accepted.
In addition, Goldman Sachs pledged $10 million to help Rhode Island small businesses through the COVID-19 crisis but the entirety of the money was claimed after just a few hours of applications being open online.
Unable to find relief through public means, Reuter has reached out to banks but found that those he does not have an existing relationship with do not return his calls. Those that do, “try to sell people lines of credit or other things they’re offering because I guess they’re not going to make much money on these loans,” he said. “There’s got to be someone overseeing this.”
One official who is overseeing this process is Senator Jack Reed who is urging Congress to provide an additional $250 billion for PPP, according to a statement from his office.
“Small businesses have every right to be upset,” Reed said in a statement. “They did their part, got all the paperwork in order, filled out applications, and got approved. Congress needs to step in with bipartisan legislative fixes before it is too late.”
Another small business owner who has turned to the SBA is Andy Procopio, owner of AMP Training Center. “I did everything I was supposed to do,” he said of applying for PPP and unemployment.
Procopio has had to lay off his staff and close the doors to members as gyms are required to remain closed in accordance with Governor Gina Raimondo’s executive order until at least May 8th.
While he agrees that his facility, which runs individual and group workout sessions, should be closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Procopio is looking for help from those who mandated the closure.
“We can’t operate and yet we can’t get access to any of this help,” he said. “I understand that everyone else is in the same boat. It’s just frustrating.” He went on to say that he is now looking into securing grants provided by private companies in addition to his pending requests for help from the public sector.
In a way to keep the community together he has turned to online sessions three times a week to keep his members moving, but isn’t worrying about collecting membership fees. However, some members have rented equipment and kept paying their membership fees as a way of helping the business get through this challenging time.
“I can’t rationalize charging people what we would normally charge them,” he said of the virtual workout sessions given their limited nature. “As long as we stand by our community and let them know we’re here to help them then my hope is that everyone will come back.”
There is one small business owner who is already seeing increased demand but is barred from operating because of the nature of her business. Sara Doherty, owner of Sundance Massage and Wellness, said she is receiving an increase in requests from customers because of the stress and anxiety created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m hoping that we can offer one-on-one services by next month,” she said. “I take necessary precautions and sanitary protocols seriously. The risk is extremely low.”
Doherty has had to adjust some of the business practices such as doing holistic counseling over the internet and offering free delivery on CBD products but said, “We can’t do a virtual massage.”
While other small businesses have struggled in dealing with the SBA, Doherty learned Friday that she qualified for the PPP.
“I can breathe a lot easier,” she said regarding the loan being secured. However, she said it was the community involvement that truly gave her hope.
“What’s keeping us afloat right now are our loyal client and community being so generous,” Doherty said. “They’re buying e-gift cards and paying for services online and even donating to us. Clients are sending us checks.”
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