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Downtown businesses wait to apply for coronavirus loans

By Kendra Caruso | Apr 08, 2020
Source: Journal files Traffic on Main Street in downtown Belfast April 1 is slow because the coronavirus has closed many area businesses.

Belfast — As small downtown businesses in Belfast find new and creative ways to keep going amid the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced the government will release funds to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help individuals and city facilities address the disease.

The federal CARES Act includes Community Development Block Grants to allow cities to modify certain facilities for infectious disease response and allow older residents to revamp their homes to allow them to better shelter in place.

Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge said he did not know how the money would be distributed, or if the city would be eligible for some of the funds, but the city is currently seeking other funds through the federal Community Block Grant program.

It is applying for funds through the Community Enterprise Program for business facade improvements, the Economic Development Program for Three Tides/Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. building improvements and the Public Service Program for equipment and maintenance at Starrett Children’s Center.

Our Town Belfast Director Zach Schmesser requested in a letter he signed with other downtown organizations around Maine that state and federal officials provide small businesses with block grants to keep their operations going while stores are closed because of the coronavirus.

Small businesses are eligible to apply for Payment Protection Loans under the CARES Act, and local banks began processing PPP applications for SBA loans April 3. In addition, Unemployment Insurance rules have been relaxed so that displaced employees face fewer hurdles to collecting unemployment.

Several downtown business owners say they are waiting as long as they can to apply for small business loans in the hope that they will be able to reopen before they lose too much revenue.

Jennifer Lisa, who owns Quench in downtown Belfast, said she had been lucky with an increase in online sales during the mandatory shutdown. She is in good financial standing currently, but is concerned that if her business has to stay closed into early summer, her funds could dwindle.

“Right now I think people are just rewarding themselves for staying home and being good,” she said. “... If worse comes to worst, I will be applying for a small-business loan.”

Heavenly Yarns owner Helen Sahadi has been mailing customer orders since she had to close her shop. She has four part-time employees who have been displaced because of the closure.

She said she uses FaceTime and sends customers photos to entice local them to continue to buy from her during the shutdown rather than turning to an online outlet that is not local. This is the time of year when sales would be ramping up to her summertime peak, she said, but being shut down has made it hard to do business.

Abby Gilchrist of Fiddlehead Artisan Supply said her online orders have primarily been from people seeking fabric and other materials to make reusable face masks. She said she is looking into small-business loan options but needs to do more research on them before applying.

She works with a new organization that sews masks for Maine medical professionals and those in need. She said she does not see an end to the demand for cloth face masks, even after businesses open back up.

Katherine Loblein and spouse John Gibbs own Katwalk and also Front Street Pub/Harbor Walk Restaurant with partners Anthony Jacovino and Tina DelSanto. They closed the restaurant March 17, putting about 25 employees out of work, Loblein said.

Usually this time of year the restaurant would be seeing an increase in business and would be hiring more seasonal workers. She said they are considering doing takeout orders, but they still need to work out a system and menu to reduce waste.

She said the restaurant has enough savings to get through this current shutdown and into the summer, but if the shutdown is extended into summer, it could put their yearly revenue in danger. She said the summer rush gets them through the winter, when sales decrease.

She said Katwalk sees less revenue. She applied for a small business loan and is hoping to be approved, because she only has one month's worth of bills saved.

She said her summer inventory has been reduced and she ran an online sale of winter clothes at 50% off to get some money flowing into her shop while it is closed to the public.

Schmesser said the coronavirus relief legislation passed by state and federal officials covered many of the requests from Our Town Belfast and other downtown organizations.

“We’re certainly thankful for the governor's work on that and the (senators) and representatives for their work on that,” he said.

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