#schoolsafety | Small businesses decline, hope in loans

The finished arrangement for the funeral services. – Ashley McCarty, The Ledger Independent

A small arrangement made by Harper. – Ashley McCarty, The Ledger Independent

WEST UNION, Ohio — As small businesses and non-profits suffer because the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved loans in Ohio through their Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted had sent a letter and application to the U.S. Small Business Administration on March 17. DeWine and Husted announced it was approved March 19.

The program would allow small businesses and non-profits to apply for low-interest, long-term loans of up to $2 million, and may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.

The West Union Flower Shop is one small business that has suffered from the weight of the socioeconomic discord.

In November 2015, Mary Harper bought the flower business. Admittedly, there was a learning curve at first — Harper had previously been in nursing, and while quite adept at taking care of patients, she knew nothing about flowers.

Now, nearly five years later, she arranges flowers with creative expertise and conceives beautiful bouquets. She plays with color with the unique skill-set that comes with an artist’s eye, and lets her creativity flourish in her craft.

The global pandemic threatens to take that away from her — sales have declined. One day this past week, sales were down by a whopping 90 percent. Most of Harper’s income sources have been slowly chipped away — holidays, school events such as prom and graduation, Mother’s Day, and even funerals, which make up 50 percent of her sales.

“I would say on average we’re down about 75 or 80 percent. Because they’re cancelling funerals, weddings, school dances. We normally do deliveries every day to a school. Like I said, we had a funeral cancelled. This was early, when everybody just started talking about closing, I don’t even know if they’d closed the schools down at that point,” said Harper.

Though, while the loan may be beneficial, there is understandable apprehension for her and many small business owners.

“It’s bad. It’s bad — several of us small business people have been kind of communicating on Facebook, of course when they first put this SBA, Adams County wasn’t listed. So we called our commissioners, and they said they were waiting. That afternoon, they listed us, but I know that one of the small businesses here in the county has completed their application. But, it’s like he said, it’s still another loan. It’s a loan. He said, when it comes down to it, I still have other loans. I said I know, but what do we do? What do we do know to survive?” said Harper.

We’re going to have to do something, she said.

“Because, we still have the same amount of bills coming in. Those people aren’t forgiving of it yet — yet. It just depends on who I’m dealing with. Some of them are like, Mary, you’re a good customer, you pay your bills, we’ll give you a line of credit. But the thing is, I have to pay that back, too. I’ve always tried to make sure my vendors were paid, my flower people, things like that,” said Harper.

One vendor told her that they were scared to offer credit to flower shops.

“I was talking to one of them, they said they knew what it was like being in the flower shop business, how hard it was to survive, and were scared to offer credit right now to flower shops, even ones that have had credit previously, because what if they go belly up after this? [They’re] not going to get paid at all,” said Harper.

Harper said the loan was a possibility at this point.

“We’re going to have to do something. People that have been here with me the longest, they’ve been calling me asking if I’m OK. When we started, like I said, we had no employees. It was me, my family and my friends, so they all know how hard I’ve worked, and how hard they’ve worked,” said Harper.

She reminisced to the hardships she had when she first obtained the businesses, the first Monday they took over. She reassured them that if they could make it through that first week, they can make it through this.

“But in the meantime, what are you doing? That’s something else too with this loan. All of us, like I said, there’s a little network of us, we need money now. We need money to operate, we’re small. All of us that I’ve been talking too are fairly new business owners. We don’t have that big stash, we’re still in the first five years of getting our business established, we don’t have that cushion sitting there,” said Harper.

Harper said she hasn’t worked her employees all week, she’s worried. They have families, too, she said.

Harper also pointed out how much local businesses helped to support the community.

“Another business owner and I were talking the other day, and he said the sad thing about the small businesses, was that we’re the ones who sponsor your kids’ little leagues, we’re the ones who buy your animals at the fair,” said Harper.

While she didn’t know how many small businesses collectively were in Adams County, if this doesn’t get better, or the government doesn’t come through, half of them are in jeopardy, she said. Even the little restaurants.

The interest rate for the loan is 3.75 percent for small businesses without credit available elsewhere. Businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75 percent. The loans are long-term, with up to 30 years for repayment.

Loan applications can be completed online, or applicants can obtain a paper application by calling 1-800-659-2955. For more information about the loan program, visit SBA.gov/Disaster.

The finished arrangement for the funeral services.
A small arrangement made by Harper.

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