What It Takes to Reopen a Small Business Right Now - The New York Times

What It Takes to Reopen a Small Business Right Now - The New York Times


What It Takes to Reopen a Small Business Right Now - The New York Times

Posted: 18 Jun 2020 02:51 PM PDT

Tiffany Turner had dinner recently in a restaurant — the first time in nearly three months. She was greeted by employees in cotton face masks and seated at a table that was a socially distanced six feet from any other. Her return-to-society meal? Caesar salad, mussels and clam chowder.

"The thing I was surprised by as a guest is that it was less awkward than I expected and more human energy than I expected," Ms. Turner said. "People's eyes are starting to tell a story more than they ever did."

Image
Credit...Celeste Noche for The New York Times

It was a reassuring experience. Ms. Turner was preparing to reopen Adrift Hospitality, her group of five boutique hotels, a restaurant and a distillery on the Oregon and Washington coasts. She wondered if people would return to public life and if there would be any sense of human connection.

That's the same question other small-business owners are asking themselves as more states allow restaurants, offices and retail businesses to reopen after being closed, some for as long as three months, to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The percentage of small businesses that were open in early June was nearly 16 points higher than it was in mid-April, according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker developed by researchers at Harvard using anonymized data from credit card processors, payroll firms and others.

But with a patchwork of rules and guidelines being issued at the city, county, state and federal levels, many employers find themselves wondering when it will be safe to open and how to make that choice — especially as some states are seeing an uptick in new cases of Covid-19.

Credit...Celeste Noche for The New York Times

Some businesses are taking a slow approach. At first, Chris Lynch and Michael Samer weren't sure what to do about their ocean adventure tours business, Everyday California, when they got the go-ahead in late April.

"In the beginning, it was scary," Mr. Samer said. "We wondered, 'Do we even want to reopen?'"

But the two friends, who started the company in San Diego 10 years ago with just an iPad, an old truck and some kayaks, didn't want to give up. They had been on a pace for a banner 2020: Sales were up 50 percent in the first two months, and March was looking just as good. And they realized the water might be one of the most socially distant places someone could be.

Updated

Mr. Lynch and Mr. Samer decided to reopen with curbside kayak and surf rentals only, keeping their retail shop and tour business closed. Then, as they felt more comfortable, they reintroduced tours at a 50 percent capacity with everyone wearing a mask. They also invested in their neglected online shop.

The bet paid off: They increased what had been a very small number of online merchandise sales by 710 percent in May, allowing them to bring back about 20 employees to help with shipping and marketing. So far, the best-selling items on the website have been hats.

"It might be because no one can get a haircut," Mr. Lynch joked.

Everyday California's tours and rentals are booked, and sales have rebounded to about 50 percent of normal levels.

Credit...John Francis Peters for The New York Times

A slow rollout isn't happening only in places, like California, that have been Covid-19 hot spots. In Montana, which has the fewest cases in the nation, some owners are also taking a wait-and-see approach.

Gov. Steve Bullock allowed bars and restaurants to reopen in early May with 50 percent capacity limits and layout restrictions, but Brett Evje held out until the end of the month before bringing customers back into Plonk, the New American-style restaurant he co-owns. It has locations in Bozeman and Missoula.

He used the downtime to refresh the Bozeman location, updating the HVAC system, installing new bar equipment and doing all of the projects he said could never complete with a restaurant open 365 days a year.

"Everybody wants to return back to normal, but from my standpoint you're already closed, so you might as well wait and see what the reaction is going to be," Mr. Evje said. "There's nothing as hard as remobilizing and bringing everyone back and then having to close down again."

Credit...Celeste Noche for The New York Times

Mr. Evje also wanted customers to have as normal an experience as possible, so he decided not to require masks for employees or patrons. Montana officials only recommend face coverings.

"Our customers were really excited that we weren't making the experience awkward," he said.

The cost of reopening is another challenge: With no revenue for months, small businesses must find ways to pay for the new sanitation regimens, thermometers, plexiglass, masks and other items necessary to open.

"None of the relief packages have included specific funding for safety retrofitting, purchasing of safety equipment or even helping business getting a handle on uniform P.P.E. for employees and customers," said Amanda Ballantyne, executive director of the Main Street Alliance, an advocacy group for small business. "The lack of those things creates a disparate recovery kind of landscape."

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise "comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort" and requires "balancing benefits versus possible adverse events." Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. "In my personal experience," he says, "heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask." Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I've heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don't typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country's largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was "very rare," but she later walked back that statement.

    • What's the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it's surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation's job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you've been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Staying open has been an expensive proposition for Hanover Co-op Food Stores. The company, which is owned by its 24,000 members, has been open throughout the pandemic as an essential business at four stores in Vermont and New Hampshire.

That has cost nearly $400,000, said Allan Reetz, the company's director of public and government affairs. The biggest expense? Staffing. The co-op gave all of its nearly 400 employees a flat bonus plus offered $2 an hour extra. It also went through with a planned cost-of-living increase in April. Other expenses included equipment, signage, communications and plexiglass dividers.

"We said, first and foremost, we need make sure that the employees understand that we will do everything within our power for their health and safety," Mr. Reetz said. "They are the ones who make the business run."

Ms. Turner at Adrift Hospitality said she was able to keep these costs to about $10,000; her employees could build most things on site. Her main expenses were reconfiguring Adrift Distillers into a hand-sanitizer manufacturer and paying additional workers to manage new sanitation regimens and check-in systems. Another cost: disposable masks for guests — who are using about 100 per day.

"We've been kind of scrappy," she said.

Credit...Celeste Noche for The New York Times

Mr. Lynch at Everyday California said that he's had also spent about $10,000 on physical changes to the shop and new processes, but that he was applying for a state grant to help offset those costs. Mr. Evje has had minimal expenses related to reopening, although he has had to hire more workers, too.

With capacity limited and demand uncertain, small-business owners, even those whose operations are larger, say it's hard to know whether to spend the money to reopen now or to wait.

Elliot Nelson, who owns McNellie's Group, with 20 restaurants in Arkansas and Oklahoma, is sifting through his spreadsheets daily to see what it's going to take to keep going.

"It's been a long time since I've gone through the financials like this," he said.

Mr. Nelson started bringing his empire back online gradually in May, beginning with outdoor dining. But six weeks later, business is still slow; sales are about one-third their normal level. His sushi restaurants are doing well, but the breakfast joints are suffering.

"Our best-case scenario, maybe we're 60 to 70 percent revenue by the end of the year," Mr. Nelson said. "And that's just a break even — and only that if I'm not paying my debt service."

He's reconsidering every cost: rent deals with landlords, reduced menus, trash collection, monthly computer expenses. He and his wife even met with a lawyer to see if they should get a divorce as a wealth-preservation tactic.

"These are the mind-boggling conversations we're having," Mr. Nelson said. "We need a stabilization fund or a super-enhanced Paycheck Protection Program, or it's bankruptcy."

Credit...Celeste Noche for The New York Times
  • Talk to your employees. "Engage your team in the decision-making process," said Ms. Turner of Adrift Hospitality. "Make sure you're communicating the why of the processes and give them choices when you can."

  • Take your time. "Think through everything, and ask: 'What are unintended consequences?'" said Mr. Reetz of Hanover Co-op. "You want to be quick, but don't rush. Calm and focus is going to win the day. And let the staff know they have your support. The staff takes the brunt of things that fail."

  • Take advantage of technology. "Be sure to utilize technology like QR codes and Apple Pay to eliminate the need to touch any surfaces," said Mr. Lynch of Everyday California. "Also, online reservations are a must. You can avoid large crowds of people waiting in line for an unnecessary amount of time."

  • Negotiate everything. "We have asked for percentage rent deals for the rest of the year," said Mr. Nelson of McNellie's. "Look at the things that are fixed, like rent and loan payments, and even the small stuff like trash and monthly computer charges."

  • Customers are stressed, too. "My best advice for dealing with customers? I guess nobody said it better than Anthony Bourdain: 'I don't have to agree with you to like you or respect you,'" said Mr. Evje of Plonk. "Keep it classy and kind."

Congress Extends Small-Business Loan Program for 5 Weeks - The New York Times

Posted: 01 Jul 2020 05:21 PM PDT

WASHINGTON — The House agreed on Wednesday to extend for five weeks a popular pandemic relief loan program for small businesses, sending President Trump legislation to give companies more time to apply for federal help under an initiative created by the stimulus law.

The move to extend the Paycheck Protection Program through Aug. 8, which allows small businesses to secure low-interest loans to help maintain their payrolls, came as Republicans and Democrats remained divided over how much additional federal assistance to provide to businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus and the economic hardship it has caused.

The program shuttered on Tuesday with more than $130 billion in unspent loan money, after allocating $520 billion in loans to nearly 5 million businesses nationwide. But just hours before, senators unexpectedly reached agreement for a five-week extension. The House cleared it on Wednesday afternoon without a formal vote.

Representative Angie Craig, Democrat of Minnesota, who oversaw the measure's passage on the floor, said lawmakers needed to set aside partisan politics and listen to small-business owners. "Our communities deserve our commitment that their best interests are what is driving our legislation," she said in a statement.

After the vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California urged the Senate to take up House legislation that would extend the program through December and called on the administration to release information about who had benefited from the program.

Updated

"The administration's breathtaking lack of transparency continues to raise serious questions as to why the administration is failing to ensure this lifeline reaches the small businesses in our most impacted communities," Ms. Pelosi said in a statement.

But a much broader and more polarized clash between Republicans and Democrats over whether to extend an array of other assistance programs set to lapse this summer — such as enhanced unemployment benefits that expire at the end of July — will wait until later in the month, with both chambers slated to leave Washington for the Fourth of July and not fully return for two weeks.

"It's certainly something to celebrate," said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader. "But I would have hoped that our two parties could have worked this out before last night, as a small part of much broader legislation to address the many challenges posed by Covid-19."

With a number of provisions in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law set to expire at the end of July and new outbreaks forcing many states to slow efforts to reopen their economies, lawmakers have acknowledged that another relief package will be necessary when Congress returns. The Democratic-controlled House in May passed a $3 trillion measure that extended several of those provisions, including an extension of jobless benefits that provide an additional $600 per week. But Republicans have rejected it, calling it too expensive and broad in scope.

Divisions remain over what should be included in future legislation, including how to address the Paycheck Protection Program, administered by the Small Business Administration, which allows companies to have their loans forgiven if they maintain payrolls at a certain level. The program enjoys bipartisan support, but it had a chaotic start and has drawn criticism both for criteria that were regarded as too broad — loans went to large, publicly traded firms — and rules that recipients said were too restrictive, barring them for using the money for their most pressing needs.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise "comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort" and requires "balancing benefits versus possible adverse events." Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. "In my personal experience," he says, "heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask." Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I've heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don't typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country's largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was "very rare," but she later walked back that statement.

    • What's the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it's surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation's job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you've been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Small businesses, desperate for relief after closing their doors to slow the spread of the coronavirus, flooded the administration with applications, prompting Congress to inject an additional $320 billion in April. Two months later, lawmakers cleared a series of modifications to relax the terms of the program, including giving small businesses more time to spend the loan money. But without Congress's action on Wednesday, the window for applying for the loans would remain shut.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told lawmakers on Tuesday that he had been discussing the possibility of repurposing the funds left in the program for businesses whose revenues had dropped significantly, such as restaurants and hotels.

Democrats have proposed extending the application window for the program through December and allowing certain small businesses to apply for a second loan, provided that they could show they had used all or most of their initial loan and that they had lost substantial revenue.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said on Tuesday that he preferred using some of the remaining funds in the program to provide a second round of assistance to small businesses.

"Our hope is that we can use that as the sort of foundation for building a second round of assistance in a more targeted way," he said.

Louisiana small businesses can apply for $15,000 grants starting July 28, here's how - The Advocate

Posted: 01 Jul 2020 12:00 PM PDT

Louisiana small businesses can start applying for up to $15,000 grants each on July 28, Treasurer John Schroder announced Wednesday, after he selected three firms to run the $275 million program set up by Republican lawmakers.

Schroder said at a press conference he selected accounting firm Postlewaite & Netterville to administer the program, New Orleans-based marketing firm MLCWorks to promote it and OpenGov to handle the online portal.

The program was pushed by a task force created by legislative leaders to come up with ideas for coronavirus recovery in the legislative sessions that ended Tuesday. Jason DeCuir, a lobbyist who chairs that task force, and former state representative and Lafayette mayor-president Joel Robideaux, a member of the task force, bid on the contract to run the program, prompting calls from at least one top Republican lawmakers to withdraw.

Instead, Schroder's office will spend $7.16 million of the federal aid on contracts with Postlewaite & Netterville, MLCWorks and OpenGov. P&N's contract is up to $5.8 million, MLCWorks will get up to $1.2 million including media buys and OpenGov will get up to $158,000. 

Top Republican calls on bidders on multi-million-dollar state contract to withdraw; here's why

P&N will vet applications from eligible businesses starting July 28, and businesses can go to la.treasury.gov to sign up for updates. Schroder was required by law to announce the program's start date by Wednesday. 

"This is first-come, first-served," Schroder said. "$275 (million) is not going to go very far."

To qualify, a business must be based in Louisiana, have suffered an "interruption of business," be owned at least 50% by Louisiana residents, have filed taxes in 2018, 2019 or will file in 2020, have no more than 50 full-time employees as of March 1, have customers or employees visit a physical location, not be part of a larger business, not exist for the purpose of advancing political activity or lobbying and not derive income from passive investments without "active participation in business operations."

Schroder said of the more than 457,000 small businesses in Louisiana, only 70,000 received federal aid. In the first 21 days of the Main Street Recovery program, only businesses that did not already receive federal aid or insurance payouts will qualify.

The cap on the grant amount is $15,000, and companies will have to prove they had coronavirus-related expenses that will be spelled out by the time the program begins. But the money does not need to be paid back.

Schroder said demand will likely "far exceed" supply, which is $275 million after lawmakers took $25 million from the initial $300 million pot of money to put toward front-line workers.

"It could be sucked up in the first 21 days," Schroder said. "We just don't know."

Schroder also said his office needed to ensure that it could operate the program without being "handcuffed" if the governor's emergency declaration expired. That's why he said he needed an amendment to a budget bill that was made late in the legislative session to exempt him from procurement rules, saying "there's nothing to it."

Forty million dollars will be set aside for grants for minority-owned, women-owned or veteran-owned businesses in the first sixty days.

Grants will be paid out until Dec. 1 or when the money runs out, whichever is sooner.

Louisiana's program is one of the key accomplishments of Republican lawmakers in the legislative session that ended June 1. A month-long special session began immediately thereafter.

The state received $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid, and the Legislature agreed to use more than $900 million to plug holes in the state budget. That left $811 million that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards wanted to send to local governments.

But after Edwards' administration hinted that local governments likely wouldn't be able to tap into all the money, Republican lawmakers, backed by the legislative task force, pushed forward a plan to use $300 million of the funds for small business grants, modeled after a similar program in Mississippi.

Now, Louisiana is spending $275 million on the grant program, more than $500 million on local governments and $50 million on front-line workers, though money could be shifted if one of the pots has leftover funds.

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