For Vito and Tammy Loiola, owners of Quality Shoe Repair on North Market Street, federal assistance isn’t enough to get them through the coronavirus pandemic.
The shoe repair shop, which has been operating downtown for 85 years, was forced to close down for three months and did not reopen until July. While the Loiolas’ landlord was understanding, they still had to pay bills on both their business and house without any income.
“It’s hard because you fall behind in your own personal bills, but we’ve been able to just keep on treading, keep pushing every day,” Vito Loiola said.
The only grant they were eligible for in the last six months was the Frederick County JumpStart grants, which were available to micro-businesses such as their own — or a business without any employees. They were not eligible for larger grants and loans such as the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program.
Now the county is gearing up to distribute more grants before the end of the year. The money will come from both the CARES Act funding and the newly allocated “rainy day” fund, said Helen Propheter, director of the Frederick County Office of Economic Development.
County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said last week she would announce some more information about those grant opportunities — JumpStart, childcare and other small businesses — next week.
About $2 to $2.1 million will be allocated for restaurants, Gardner said. State officials calculated that number based on the number of restaurants in the county, she added.
She added there would be an update to the County Council on Nov. 10 on where CARES Act funding stands. A lot of the $45.3 million has either been spent or designated for spending, Gardner said. According to that legislation, the funds must be spent by the end of 2020.
For instance, the county is waiting on a personal protective equipment delivery next month, and won’t actually spend the money until county officials receive it, Gardner said
But still, more assistance is going to be needed next year, she said.
“We don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last, it’s an unknown, it’s longer than any of us thought,” Gardner said. “So I do think we’re going to need more help from the federal government after the first of the year.”
“We’re going to continue to need rental assistance, we’re going to continue to need to house the homeless in a non-congregate way after the first of the year,” she added. “So we’re having broad community conversations about how we keep some of these things that we’re doing now in place.”
If capacity levels and business activity were to hold steady, Thurmont Kountry Kitchen, a restaurant in downtown Thurmont, will be OK, said its owner Sherry Myers.
That could change if further restrictions are in place, Myers added. But she still needs to discuss with colleagues whether it is worth applying for more local assistance. She has lost eight or day employees through this, and has struggled to re-hire those cuts or new workers.
“If business continues the way it is right now, we’ll be fine,” Myers said. “We’re up 25 percent over our sales over last year, this month we’ve been up even higher… we’ve been really blessed, we really have been.”
Steve Baranski, however, says the assistance is needed. Baranski owns the Boulder Yard, an indoor rock climbing gym, and Frederick Ninja Warrior Gym, both located in off Industry Lane, south of the city of Frederick.
Baranski said business has declined sharply — estimating it is at 5 to 10 percent of what levels were at before a shutdown. Before March, he was seeing more than 100 customers daily during some stretches. Now, that’s down to mostly 20 to 30 members a day, sometimes less.
A third of the population will come with a mask, he said. Another third will refuse to enter without one, and another third of customers simply feel it’s unsafe, he said.
“We’re just treading water, and I know I’m not the only one,” Baranski said of his businesses. “We just need a little bit more [assistance] to get us through the next month or two.”
Alyssa MacFawn, co-owner of LifeCycle Studio in Frederick, agrees. While her business received a Frederick City grant and some PPP assistance, she said it altogether didn’t make a huge difference. In fact, the PPP money only got the boutique gym through one pay period due to the way it had to be used.
MacFawn, like Myers, is hoping that capacity standards stay where they are or increase instead of heading back down during the winter months. While gyms are able to function at 50 percent capacity, the six-foot distancing rule makes it hard to fit more than 14 bikes in the studio at a time. Usually they have at least 30 bikes. They originally started with just 10 bikes per class, but after consistently accruing wait lists for their classes, they added four more.
“[The capacity] is a struggle in itself, because the bills aren’t at half capacity,” MacFawn said.
Ultimately, Propheter knows that grants are needed, but there is only so much they can do for businesses until vaccines are available and business can go back to mostly normal.
“No business actually wants to receive a grant. They need it, but what they want is to be able to execute out their business plan and thrive in their own way,” Propheter said. “And with that comes a better feeling of confidence and predictability.”
With so little predictability right now, however, it’s hard to plan ahead. LifeCycle just opened in January, and has since had to reimagine their entire business just months after starting it.
“We have a cushion, but our cushion is getting hit, unfortunately,” MacFawn said. “If something doesn’t happen soon, we will have to shut our doors, and that’s scary to think about.”