Days have become weeks, weeks are now months and businesses on Cape Cod and the islands are still in the dark as to when they can reopen. As a small business owner for more than 35 years, I thought my husband and I had gone through the bad and the good years of owning an auto repair business. But nothing in those 35 years has prepared us for what is now a pandemic economic crisis.
As mom-and-pop shops await their fate to reopen, big box home stores, pharmacies and grocery stores applied Centers for Disease Control precautions to the hundreds and thousands of shoppers across the country. Some other small businesses, like my auto repair shop, were allowed to open. Guiding customers through a maze of what not to do and hunting down sanitation products, gloves, masks and masking tape to mark arrows and boxes for people to stand on was now the new status quo.
Even though I was allowed to be open, we cut salaries by more than half and paid one full-time technician his wages and healthcare even though our sales were down 70 percent for the first four weeks of quarantine. I read emails, and watched webinars on how to apply for business loans and for the paycheck protection program (PPP) loan [from the US Small Business Administration]. Not wanting the burden of a loan after 35 years in business and looking at retiring in a few years, I opted for the PPP loan. Not knowing how long either my husband or I could go on with little to no salary and not file for unemployment, we felt the PPP loan could get us through two months of the unknown. The stipulation was we had to start using it on the day it was deposited into my account. Seventy-five percent for payroll and 25 percent to utilities, health insurance and mortgage, and supposedly the loan would be forgiven.
But a sure thing is not always a sure thing. Business was still slow, so using the loan in the eight-week allotment was not going to happen. Like many other small businesses on the Cape and the islands that qualified for the PPP loan, restaurants, motels, small retail stores, hair and barber salons and other nonessential businesses were not open and therefore could not start using the portion of the PPP for salaries. So far, no extension from the federal government has been made to extend the eight-week period to 12 or 14 weeks to help businesses get back on their feet. But the same loans granted to colleges, airlines and large manufacturing companies that have been open and have been operating to some degree would use the loan more quickly and would therefore have the loan forgiven.
When will it be our time as small-business owners to be accepted by our local and state government officials that we are essential to our community, to the viability of Cape Cod and to the state of Massachusetts? When will it be our time to show we can reopen with safety precautions and protocols in place, just like the big businesses? When will it be our time to be respected by business leaders that we are the backbone of the economy in this country? I want to know when will that time come for us.
The time has come that small businesses need to start standing up for ourselves. We have been waiting more than patiently to open up with gloves, masks and employee training. We have been waiting oh-so-patiently so that we can pay our rent, mortgage, utilities, insurance and salaries to keep our doors open, to keep our neighbors employed, to pay for our property taxes to strengthen our schools, police and fire departments. We have been waiting to put food on our tables, to pay college loans and to get our kids back on the ball fields that we support with donations from our businesses.
When will our local officials realize that, without sales tax, property tax and donations from small businesses, our town budgets will crumble, and increasing taxes is not an option? When will our commerce leaders realize that more than 50 percent of state small businesses will not reopen and might declare bankruptcy with mortgages in default and small business loans not paid; nonprofits and charity organizations will fold; community events will not continue; and real estate property will sit empty?
We can continue to monitor the coronavirus statistics for the next year or more, but when will our government leaders look at the statistics of closed businesses and unemployment seriously? Small businesses need to be noticed, need to be given a fair chance at surviving this pandemic. We are the backbone and always will be the backbone of this country, but we have been let down by government and commerce leaders. We have been looked upon as inadequate or incompetent to open with safety and precautions in place. But the fact is that we do have our act together. We have spent money on signage, safety gear and sanitation products. We have followed training protocols and asked for our customers’ understanding as we go through this together.
Why can’t you understand that you need us more than the big box stores to keep small communities thriving, to pay local taxes, to keep locals employed? When will it be our time to survive this crisis?
Heidi H. Trottier
Mr. T’s Auto Repair