Jerk N’ Jive owner James Smith wasted no time applying for the Paycheck Protection Program this year. The restaurant owner, who has a background in banking, submitted his application on Monday, the first day the program was open for businesses submitting in the first draw.
“My plan is hopefully we can get through winter, spring and into summer, and hopefully by then things will start to open back up,” he said. “I’m hoping that the PPP will get us through the next four to five months.”
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provided more than five million loans to small businesses last year, is open again through the Small Business Administration (SBA). This go-round, the loans are available to businesses with fewer than 300 employees that can prove a 25 percent year-over-year decline in revenue for one fiscal quarter.
If businesses spend the majority of the loan on payroll costs, they will be able to apply for loan forgiveness. Smith said using the majority of the money his East Street Jerk N’ Jive location received last year was no problem.
“We still have a number of people that come to work every day and have families to provide for, and we’re just not getting the business right now,” Smith said. “So because of that, we definitely need the stimulus.”
Woodsboro Bank helped loan $27 million to businesses in 2020, said Richard Ohnmacht, chief commercial banking officer. He’s not sure their numbers will be as high this year, considering some businesses that wish to apply for their second draw might not qualify with the 25 percent rule.
However, Ohnmacht said the bank’s PPP team feels much more prepared to take on the process this year. They’ve streamlined certain aspects of the application process, such as having applicants submit their information directly into a portal rather than giving it to the bank to then give to the SBA.
“When the first round hit, we had to fix the plane while we were flying it because you’re doing your business as usual, and then you have to invent this process,” he said. “This time there’s less of that.”
Catie Serio, owner of Pizza & Pretzel Creations on North Market Street, said the process of applying for the PPP was simple last year, and she expects it to be again this year. While she heard from peers in the business community that they were having a difficult time getting their applications through to their lenders, she had a straightforward experience with PNC Bank.
“It’s not like it pushes your application up to the top of the pile, it certainly does not do that,” she said of the bigger banks. “But ... if you have questions, or if you need something wrapped up quickly, they are able to help you out a little bit more.”
Larger banks may be more efficient with their application processes this time around now that they’ve had more time to develop their portals and work out any bugs, said Rick Weldon, CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. It’s also helpful that the qualifying criteria are more direct.
“It’s much easier for small businesses that are on top of their [profits and losses] and their monthly revenue and expenses to get approved,” Weldon said.
Since getting the first PPP last year, Serio said she’s been applying for everything she can get her hands on, including Frederick County and city grants as well as private funding. She is dedicated to keeping her Frederick and Hagerstown locations open, especially for her employees who have been with the business for several years.
“Restaurants are struggling across the country, and ... most restaurants are independent. So those are people’s families that are being put out of work, unfortunately,” she said. “And I didn’t want that for my family and for my staff.”
The newly opened PPP is part of the latest stimulus package that was signed into law in December by President Donald Trump. The package also designated funds for theaters and live event venues, which will first be available for venues that lost more than 90 percent of their revenue in 2020.
John Healey, the executive theater director of the Weinberg Center on Patrick Street, said the Weinberg would fall into that category.
“The plus side is that our members and sponsors have been very good about continuing their support, so that is only down about 20 percent as far as we can calculate at this point,” Healey said.
Frederick County business owners are also hopeful about Gov. Larry Hogan’s newly announced RELIEF Act, which the General Assembly could vote on this week. The act would provide funding especially for restauranteurs, which Smith and Serio both said is much needed.
Serio closed indoor dining at Pizza & Pretzel because of the small space and the dangers of having customers unmasked while eating. She feels governments have a responsibility to help businesses where people inherently have to take their masks off.
“I’m happy that they’re letting us stay open, but they can certainly shut us down… and they can not offer any money,” she said. “And that is happening in a lot of other places, so I definitely feel privileged to live in Maryland where they’re taking it a bit more seriously and providing the financial backing to help us keep people safe.”
The RELIEF Act would also provide a sales tax holiday for retail establishments, which Weldon said would help significantly after a disappointing holiday sales season.
“I think the governor’s really got something here,” Weldon said. “I hope the legislature acts on it immediately.”