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Small Businesses Will Get Help Paying Workers, if They Can Wait

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Every day counts for Glynis Donnelly, who owns a jewelry store in Tampa, Fla. Ever since the coronavirus outbreak decimated foot traffic to her store, she has been using her savings to pay her eight part-time employees.

“It may not be the most business-smart thing to do,” Ms. Donnelly said, “but I know my employees very well, and I know that they need me as much as I need them.”

The $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress late Wednesday, which includes more than $370 billion for small businesses such as Ms. Donnelly’s, could bring much-needed help. The bill will allow banks to lend directly to businesses, and those loans will be backed by the Small Business Administration. And although there are restrictions, some of the terms are less onerous than other programs administered by the S.B.A.

But it could take at least two weeks after the bill is signed into law for the money to begin flowing, and for small business owners — many of whom operate on thin margins — delays could mean the difference between surviving and shuttering their businesses permanently.

Federal authorities know time is tight. Regulators on Thursday released a statement encouraging banks and credit unions to start making small loans to individuals and small businesses immediately, independent of the stimulus.

Ms. Donnelly said she intended to make quick use of the stimulus program to try to supplement her personal expenses. She has $60,000 in savings and plans to dip into her 401(k) plan after that if no other funds are available. Her husband, who works as an ear, nose and throat doctor at a small practice in Tampa, has not received a paycheck in six weeks. The practice stopped paying its doctors to shore up its finances in preparation for the coronavirus’s economic shock, she said, adding that it too could qualify for a loan under Wednesday’s bill.

The stimulus package is offering small businesses S.B.A.-backed loans to pay for basic expenses. They would not have to repay portions that were spent on paying employees, a mortgage, rent or utilities. The banks lending the money would be reimbursed for those portions by the Treasury Department, which is receiving $377 billion to fund the program.

The bill is the latest effort by the federal government to prevent the widespread decimation of small businesses as the virus, which is still spreading, forces people indoors. An earlier stimulus package offered special loans to cover employees’ benefits along with utilities and other necessities while businesses were closed. Modeled after a disaster relief function inside the S.B.A., it requires applicants to deal directly with the small agency.

But the S.B.A.’s website has been so jammed that many users have been unable to complete loan applications, and those who did are told that they will take at least three weeks to process.

Jerry Akers, who with his family owns and runs 27 Great Clips hair salons in Iowa and Nebraska, said his wife spent four hours in the middle of the night this week trying to apply for a $2.7 million S.B.A. disaster-relief loan, to cover 12 weeks of health benefits for 220 furloughed employees. The S.B.A.’s website was so overloaded that she could not send the application until 4 a.m.

Mr. Akers said he hoped the new program would be easier to use. He is also hoping the bank he has relied upon for years can participate.

“We have a banker that we’ve got a great relationship with, but I met with him three or four days ago and he said ‘We’d lend to you hand over fist in normal times, but everything is shutting down and we don’t know what that means for you yet.’”

Under the new program, individual lenders will be able to use their own paperwork to process loans and can expect S.B.A. approval within two weeks. Banks will not disburse the loans until the S.B.A. assures them that each is fully guaranteed against default.

Unlike other S.B.A.-backed loans, business owners won’t have to provide personal guarantees or use all their available assets — from real estate to equipment — as collateral. There are no fees, and interest rates are capped at 4 percent.

“Because of the scale of this effort, it really has to work,” said Paul Merski, a lobbyist for the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group.

Lending conditions are complicated by the fact that normal paperwork is harder to complete. Social distancing makes it difficult to get forms notarized, and appraisers are not visiting properties to inspect them. Lenders and state officials are finding workarounds; for instance, New York now allows notaries to complete their work through a video connection.

That’s another waiting period that could cripple small-margin operations like restaurants, many of which only have cash to sustain themselves for two weeks, said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business’s small business legal center.

The program comes with restrictions: Loans are limited to $10 million, to businesses with 500 employees or less. Loans to cover salaries of over $100,000 a year wouldn’t qualify for forgiveness, and businesses must demonstrate that they had not recently laid off employees, or a smaller amount of the loan would be subject to forgiveness.

Businesses would not have to repay loans covering up to eight weeks worth of payroll expenses. That means that once businesses receive their loans, a new clock will begin to tick: They’ll have to use the money within two months to avoid repaying it.

Michael Muscarella, who runs Dog Services, a kennel in Richmond, Va., plans to apply to fund his payroll. In late January, he and his partners met to prepare for the coronavirus outbreak and decided to pay employees through the end of April.

One of its three kennels is still open and caring for the pets of those fighting the virus, such as health care workers and emergency responders. But many of its employees have stopped showing up to work.

The business employs as many as 60 people and pays $14 an hour. Mr. Muscarella said he would use a loan to give low-wage employees an incentive not to abandon their jobs, as home delivery services like Amazon and GrubHub begin to lure workers away.

“I’ve got to find a way to keep them loyal to me,” he said.

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San Antonio man loses job, starts new family business

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SAN ANTONIO – Sunday marked day one for the Cabrales family’s new chapter — a shaved ice business to fight back against the impact of COVID-19.

Days after the shutdown began in mid-March due to the growing concerns surrounding the pandemic, Ismael Cabrales said he received a call from his supervisor.

“He said, ‘Hey, your name came up, and you and several others, today is going to be the last day that you guys are (employed) with us,” Ismael said.

Ismael said he had kept the same job for nine years. Although filled with uncertainty, Cabrales accepted his fate.

“In a way, it’s a sigh of relief,” Ismael said.

The company’s decision allowed him to spend more time with his wife Joana and their five children and to think about their future, Ismael said.

Related: A guide to unemployment benefits for Texans laid off during coronavirus pandemic

“My mind started wondering what our next step (would be),” Ismael said. “Necessity drives creativity (and) if your back is against the wall, you have to be creative with what you do. So, we just started dreaming and this came up.”

Until the Cabrela’s find a permanent spot to work from, they’ll announce pop-up locations and hours on their Instagram.
Until the Cabrela’s find a permanent spot to work from, they’ll announce pop-up locations and hours on their Instagram. (Cristian Ortiz-Salas)

Joanna and Ismael said after some brainstorming that they had the resources to venture into the food business and create Lina’s Treats and Cafe, a small traveling food truck that serves shaved ice.

“I don’t think you’ll find anything like us. We want to be different. Most of the products that we sell are natural. We want to stay biodegradable. We want to stay environmentally friendly,” Ismael said.

Sunday afternoon at the parking lot of Broadway Loft near The Pearl, marked the business’ first day open to the public, just in time to help keep locals cool in triple-digit heat.

Their menu offers a variety of options including sweet flavors like Berry Fun or The Hawaiian with pineapple and coconut, refreshing flavors like El Mojito with mint and lime and bold options like Cold Brew that features a locally roasted coffee from Solid State Coffee Co topped with vanilla ice cream.

The couple's children help make the strawberry drizzle that tops the Berry Fun shaved ice option.
The couple’s children help make the strawberry drizzle that tops the Berry Fun shaved ice option. (Ismael Cabrales)

Joana said the family jumped in to help with the new venture.

“I have four daughters and one son,” Joana said. “When they heard that we were going to start this business, they were all in just because they like helping in the kitchen. So, like the strawberry drizzle that we use, they actually help me cook it. They’ll cut up the strawberries and actually cook it and make the drizzle.”

Customers can also find frozen-favorites like mangonadas or fresadas, a delicious mango or strawberry-flavored shaved ice as well as traditional paletas.

RELATED: Only in San Antonio: Mangonada with hot cheetos, pickles & chamoy

The Cabrales family is eager for the San Antonio community to try their cool treats. Each purchase, they said, helps support their dreams as well as their goal to keep their family afloat during the pandemic.

The family hopes to find a permanent spot near downtown to work from on weekends. Businesses interested in renting out an area for the food truck can contact the family at linastreatsandcafe@gmail.com.

For Lina’s Treats and Cafe’s hours and current location, click here.

Copyright 2020 by KSAT – All rights reserved.



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Shaq joins coronavirus-driven koi pond trend

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A team of experts recently installed a huge koi pond at the Atlanta home of Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.

The Shaq-sized water feature includes an 80-foot stream, six waterfalls, 180 tons of stone and a 22-by-50-foot pond with a sandy beach entry and a fire pit on one side, according to Greg Wittstock, the owner and CEO of Aquascape who’s also known as “The Pond Guy.”

“It’s a Ferrari of ponds,” he said.

The pond was built between the 8,600-square-foot home and a large treehouse that was installed for an episode of Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters” about two years ago. Wittstock showed off the finished product in a YouTube video.

SHAQ ADVERTISES $2.5M CALIFORNIA HOME ON INSTAGRAM

“It’s awesome, brother,” Shaq says in Wittstock’s video. “You did a wonderful job.”

Shaq isn’t the only homeowner with a new koi pond. Wittstock said Aquascape, his Illinois-based business, has had a tremendous surge in business as the coronavirus pandemic has kept people at home.

“We cannot keep up,” he said. “We’re working 12-hour shifts six days a week, and I’ve got everybody and their kids working for me.”

Shaq’s new koi pond includes lighting for nighttime viewing. (Aquascape)

HOMEOWNERS SHARPEN THEIR SHORT GAME WITH BACKYARD PUTTING GREENS

Others in the koi business said they’ve also had an uptick interest. Mike Rice, the president of Mt. Parnell Fisheries in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, told FOX Business the coronavirus had reversed a downward trend.

“I feel that the hobby … was beginning to decline domestically prior to the COVID pandemic, but with more people getting into DIY projects there has definitely been an uptick this past spring/summer,” Rice wrote in an email.

Even Google search data show that there were more searches for “koi” in May and June than any other time in the past five years.

TINY HOME, BACKYARD COTTAGE DEMAND SURGES AMID CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Wittstock said he believed people have been looking to create “an escape” at home to help counter the stresses the pandemic has caused.

“I think they just want the peace and tranquility and serenity that a water feature provides,” he said.

It’s a drastic turn compared to the last major economic downturn. The 2008 financial crisis saw a dramatic drop in business. This time, “We had one week in March whenever everybody was in limbo and then it was an explosion,” Wittstock said.

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Most of Aquascape’s business is not large projects like the water feature for Shaq, although Wittstock, who was also the star of the Nat Geo Wild reality series “Pond Stars,” said they do about one large-scale project each year, often for a celebrity client.

Aquascape sells all the pumps, filters, fish and plant care items and other goods one would need for a backyard water feature. A more typical setup for a new client would be an 11-by-16 ecosystem pond, an 8-10-foot stream and a 2-foot waterfall, all with filtration, pumps, plumbing, liner and stonework. A project of that scope would often run somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000, Wittstock said.

The interest since April has been “unbelievable,” he said.

“I can’t even begin to tell you,” he said. “It is insane.”

READ MORE ON FOX BUSINESS BY CLICKING HERE

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Mask sale Uptown to raise funds for businesses | COVID-19

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When a former Uptown business owner saw people’s reactions to Greenwood passing a city ordinance requiring customers and employees at local businesses to wear protective masks, she wanted to do what she could to support business owners.

Nicole Munnerlyn, who owned Sweet Teas Children’s Boutique in Uptown for eight years, said she was surprised by negative comments she saw from people responding to the new ordinance.

“People were saying ‘I just won’t shop Uptown, then,’” she said. “Well, it’s not the city business owners that should be punished or hurt by a city mask ordinance that’s really there to protect people in the first place.”

The family business, Munnerlyn and Co., makes personal protective equipment, including masks and face shields. Munnerlyn said she’s planning to set up a tent from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday in front of Sweet Teas to sell protective equipment, but also to inform the public about masks. For every box sold, 10% of her sales will go to Uptown as a donation to help buy masks for Uptown businesses to use or give to customers.

“After everything that transpired, I just wanted to see what I could do to support our local businesses,” she said. “In addition to being out there, I’d like to educate people too about what needs to be used and what times and places different masks are beneficial.”

She wants to share what research she’s done into masks in order to ensure the ones Munnerlyn and Co. produce are up to FDA standards. The company sells the three-ply masks that are similar to surgical masks, along with KN95 masks that meet the FDA’s 95% filtration requirement.

She wants to show off different ways to test masks, such as by wearing it tautly and then trying to blow air through the fabric. She said if you can blow air through the fabric of the mask, it’s likely not offering much protection.

Before setting up her booth Tuesday, Munnerlyn said she’ll spend much of Monday meeting with Uptown business owners to find out other ways she can help.

Uptown Manager Lara Hudson said the funds raised Tuesday will go to helping businesses buy the protective equipment they need. She said Munnerlyn’s offer was greatly appreciated.

“So many of those businesses are already struggling with the loss of revenues, and they’re going to need to purchase masks,” she said. “Our main goal has been just to help them in any way we can.”

Hudson said even if Greenwood’s business owners might have differing opinions regarding COVID-19 protections, Uptown’s businesses always help one another out.

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.

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