With PPP ending, struggling small businesses seek new lifeline

CHEYENNE HASLETT and SHANNON K. CRAWFORD
·6 min read

When Genevieve Villamora left her house for the first time after battling the novel coronavirus for six weeks, she was struck by how much her neighborhood had changed -- "For Rent" signs plastered on storefronts, one block after the next.

Villamora is co-owner of Bad Saint, once deemed the second best restaurant in the U.S. by Bon Appetite. The line to get a table there, in the trendy Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Columbia Heights, used to stretch down the block.

But not now. Not as Villamora watches her neighborhood become a shell of its former self.

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"When we lose small businesses, we really lose a lot more than just that one business," Villamora said through tears, her voice cracking. "I think the ripple effects spread out, and they spread out in ways that are unfortunately very lasting, in ways that shred communities and neighborhoods."

PHOTO: Genevieve Villamora, co-owner of the Washington, D.C., restaurant Bad Saint, works in July of 2019. While a PPP loan from the government has kept the famed restaurant afloat, the program is coming to a close without plans for next steps. (Courtesy Bad Saint/Katie Dance)
PHOTO: Genevieve Villamora, co-owner of the Washington, D.C., restaurant Bad Saint, works in July of 2019. While a PPP loan from the government has kept the famed restaurant afloat, the program is coming to a close without plans for next steps. (Courtesy Bad Saint/Katie Dance)

In late April, Villamora's restaurant secured a lifeline -- a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program.

If used just to pay a skeleton crew, with 75% of her staff cut since March, Villamora's loan, she said, will help her last through the end of the year. She and her staff are focused on covering costs, never mind turning a profit.

They're still standing. For now.

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"The way it feels," she said, "is like we're being asked to rebuild a house on sand that is shifting under us all the time."

The chance for small businesses to apply for PPP funds, forgivable loans so long at least 60% is spent on payroll, disappears Saturday. Since the program was launched April 3, more than $521.7 billion has been approved, according to the Small Business Administration.

The program, not without its faults, has helped more than 5 million businesses but to varying degrees -- some ran out of money within a month, with others stretching their loans a bit longer.

But even those who benefitted from PPP told ABC News that while it was helpful, they need more help. And there's no plan on the table to provide additional aid, without which many businesses won't be able to bounce back.

PHOTO: As local economies gradually reopen during the pandemic, the return of walk-up customers is helping small businesses financially, but owners worry about the resurgence of covid-19 cases. (ABC News)
PHOTO: As local economies gradually reopen during the pandemic, the return of walk-up customers is helping small businesses financially, but owners worry about the resurgence of covid-19 cases. (ABC News)

"People are incredibly resilient and resourceful, but all of their resourcefulness and new business ideas for streams of revenue will come to naught if the pandemic continues to worsen," Villamora said.

White House negotiators and top Democrats have spent much of the last two weeks attempting to reconcile differences between dueling plans to buoy the economy. Both agree on extending PPP -- but not on how to do it.

Talks appear to have collapsed entirely, with little progress made and no plan for the parties to meet again.

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Even businesses that may seem well-suited to pandemic-induced lifestyle changes are finding themselves on shaky ground.

Kathleen Donahue owns Labyrinth Games and Puzzles, but before March, it offered much more. The white brick store on Pennsylvania Avenue, replete with stacks of brightly colored board games, also hosted neighborhood gatherings -- children's parties and trivia nights.

PHOTO: Kathleen Donahue’s store, Labyrinth Games & Puzzles, has reopened for limited in-store shopping but is seeing just a fraction of pre-pandemic foot traffic. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Kathleen Donahue’s store, Labyrinth Games & Puzzles, has reopened for limited in-store shopping but is seeing just a fraction of pre-pandemic foot traffic. (ABC News)

Donahue said the $100,000 in PPP she received went almost entirely to payroll expenses during the months she couldn't allow customers inside. That money's gone, and even with limited in-store shopping now allowed, she can't host events that helped land additional customers.

"We had to refund all of our summer camp money. That was pretty huge," Donahue said. "Unless we can maintain better sales than we had in July, or get more help, it's going to be very hard to pay rent and maintain the staff that I have currently for the rest of the year."

Like Donahue, Mike Brey is concerned about his business, Hobby Works, which sells model cars, miniature trains and giant gliders -- items that end up on holiday wishlists.

PHOTO: Small business owners Mia and Okera Stewart of Washington, D.C., say the coronavirus pandemic and looting during recent protests have dealt a financial blow that is testing their ability to remain open. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Small business owners Mia and Okera Stewart of Washington, D.C., say the coronavirus pandemic and looting during recent protests have dealt a financial blow that is testing their ability to remain open. (ABC News)

The $70,000 in PPP Brey received helped him and his employees weather the uncertainty of the spring, but it's not enough to last them if there's no holiday rush.

"The toy and hobby business is really built on surviving March through October, and then making all of your money November, December, January, February," Brey said. "If we were to shut down again in the fourth quarter, that would be bad."

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Donahue and Brey both have small online presences, but the bulk of their business is from walk-ins.

"Usually, this time of year we start preparing for the holidays. I don't know even how to prepare," Donahue said. "It's nothing like anything we've ever experienced before."

Brey said he was grateful for PPP but that small business owners still needed lawmakers to be more "forward looking."

"If we have to go through another shutdown, my business and many businesses like it will probably need -- if not assistance -- certainly access to capital," Brey said. "Because rent doesn't stop. Health insurance doesn't stop. Payroll doesn't stop, unless you lay people off."

"Let's stop treating this like it's gonna magically disappear," he added. "And let's start figuring out how we're going to live with this virus, as a people, and as business people, for another year to a year and a half."

PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Jaja Chen, a 27-year-old second-generation Taiwanese American who along with her husband started a boba tea business, Waco Cha, in Waco, Texas, only got about half of the PPP for which she applied. She said they settled for that amount, after inquiring with four different lenders, because they were told funds would be drying up soon and they otherwise risked getting nothing.

They only received about $6,500.

"So," Chen said, "was it worth it? When I think about that question my head hurts, 'cause I'm like, I don't know if it was worth it."

The money was gone within a month. She and her husband have started selling dumplings along with tea to generate more revenue. Waiting for the next round of PPP -- or whatever it's called -- wasn't an option for them.

"At that point," Chen said, "we decided ... that we cannot rely on these programs to help us to be able to have a thriving business."

With PPP ending, struggling small businesses seek new lifeline originally appeared on abcnews.go.com