To my fellow Capitol Hill residents,
No matter the situation, we are all struggling in these times. Many find themselves without work and struggling to pay their bills and even those with jobs are facing stress, anxiety and depression in these uncertain times.
We all hear it daily: small businesses are being hit the hardest by COVID-19, but what does that truly mean? Aren’t there grants, loans and assistance in place for small businesses? The short answer, no, there really aren’t, but let me fill you in on the long answer.
I own Enchant Vertical Dance, a contemporary pole dance studio on 12th and Pike. Enchant opened in December 2014 with a focus on combining classic dance technique with stunning pole tricks. We offer everything from beginner pole dance classes to Adult Ballet Fundamentals and pride ourselves in creating a supportive and inclusive community for anyone who wants to dance. Enchant has been very successful, expanding three times, twice within 2019 alone.
We saw our attendance start to drop in early February and received numerous emails from people asking to cancel or reschedule due to COVID-19. We closed our doors on March 15th per Governor Inslee’s shelter in place mandate.
So from here, what do you do as a small business owner? Savings can only take you so far when your expenses are roughly $6,000 per month (not including your own personal bills). I immediately took action and started applying for every loan and grant available. I have been working 50 – 70 hour work weeks and received nothing, absolutely nothing at all.
- As we all know, the Seattle small business relief grant did not go very far as there was just not much money in the program. Of the thousands of applicants, only 250 received any help.
- The Economic disaster relief loan does not help out businesses that only need 10K or so and favors large businesses that need $50,000 plus. We were recently denied as they said we had not been impacted enough to qualify. I would personally say that having $6,000 per month in bills and being closed from March 15 – undetermined is fairly impacted, but I guess it is too small for a country that really only favors large corporations.
The Payment Protection Program is honestly just a huge mess! They want you to spend 75% on payroll to be eligible for loan forgiveness and even stress that you should spend the money that way anyway when you apply. Our businesses already pay into unemployment and are going to end up paying higher rates on our unemployment taxes after this is over, so it is not our responsibility to get a loan to pay for unemployment and still have no money for rent. When I originally applied for the loan, I was told that even the banks have no idea how forgiveness will work and that we basically know as much as they do. I ended up withdrawing my application, as it still would not help me with the bills I actually need to pay, like rent.
Governor Inslee ordered a mandate in which commercial residents could not be evicted and that if a renter asked for a payment plan, the landlord must accommodate. I do want to say that our property manager has been amazing, very sympathetic and as helpful as possible, but what most of us are finding is that landlords are not abiding by this and not offering payment plans. If they do know the law, they are putting off answering us about payment plans until after rent is due so that we feel like we have no option but to pay. Commercial residents have very little in terms or rental rights and we face retaliation if we fight back on this. We do not see even close to the same rights as you get in residential leases and it restricts us greatly.
Our state has made unemployment available for self employed individuals/small business owners, but many are getting absolutely nothing. The process is extremely confusing. You have to file your unemployment claim, get denied, reapply for the PAU portion, then file weekly claims. Sounds easy enough, but as a small business owner, you are working 50 – 70 hours per week to keep the business going and prep for phase 2. You are required to be honest on these forms, but once you put in any hours worked at all (they ask you to put in hours worked even if you aren’t getting paid), it gets denied for excessive hours. They say that if you are working, even if you are receiving $0 and will never get back pay for it, you are not unemployed. This is so unrealistic as a business owner! We have to spend all day every day chasing down loans, grants, figuring out how to reorganize our businesses for re-opening, market our business and basically try to keep them alive. The phone wait times are over 4 hours and then just disconnect you, they sometimes just shut the phone lines down and they don’t respond to the online messages. Even then, the $235 per week won’t cover my studio rent, let alone my personal bills.
Many grants that are available, don’t ever even respond. Facebook came out with a grant, but in the businesses saving businesses group on Facebook (with over 2,000 members), not a single member has ever seen anything from it. At most, a few people received an email saying they may qualify for ad credits after a background check. Amazon has offered a grant, but has made it very local to their headquarters and as my business is on 12th and Pike, it is too far away. In this link there are many grants available. I have personally applied for each one that could apply to my dance studio and gotten nothing at all.
Some grants are also actually scams, so you have to research each one. I applied to one that sounded amazing and had a wonderful mission statement… until the end of my phone meeting when I was told that there was just one minor thing, that the grand didn’t cover the little monthly fee of $15 for the online program and that they didn’t actually provide any grant money, it was just training videos through that online program.
Many businesses are taking advantage of small businesses right now; knowing we are desperate, I think my scheduling system is a great example. Mind Body Online offered one month free to help with disaster relief, which was very nice seeing as their product is over $250 per month and completely unusable for most right now… but then they have been offering two months free if you sign a long contract with them. This is so scary as we are now in contracts where we have to pay almost $300 a month for a year when our businesses may close, but we do it because that money off for a single month may help. So many companies are doing this or just flat out trying to exploit this situation.
To reopen, businesses have to provide each employee with expensive PPE equipment and stock their business with hand sanitizer and isopropyl alcohol, which is expensive, hard to find and limited to one per purchase when they are available. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with needing this for the safety of our employees and customers, but we have to provide all of it while having zero revenue coming in. Finding everything is near impossible and then going to Amazon, as a last resort, is awful as the prices have been increased to ridiculous levels. You used to be able to buy 25 paper facemasks at $7.99, now 10 will cost you almost $15 and are typically shipped from China, which is taking up to two months to receive.
Many employees are uncomfortable coming back to work. While this is understandable, owners cannot operate a business without employees. While it may be easier to hire and train people in retail and other industries, in more specialty ones it is near impossible to hire and train someone on such short notice.
Many people suggest things like Livestream/Zoom classes, but these are a very mixed bag. Zoom fatigue is a very real thing and many people are very sick of online meetings by the time they get off work. These online classes also take all of the joy out of teaching. Most dance teachers have a passion for seeing that moment that things click, that excitement and passion in their student’s faces, that meaningful interaction, Zoom classes take that all away. Instead of having a class with someone, you are teaching AT them. The experience just isn’t the same for anyone involved and most students are just waiting for the studio to open back up.
So what is my point? What am I trying to get across by sharing this? We need help! So much is focused on restaurants and bars right now, which absolutely do need help, but let’s not forget the other local businesses that need support. Our only options are becoming lifelong debt or closing forever. What makes our cities great, a bunch of corporate franchises or unique small businesses? Would you rather go to 24 hour fitness or a locally owned gym where the owner knows you, your goals and you can talk to them directly about concerns or suggestions?
So how can you help? If you do have the funds, buy now. Buy your class passes now or gift cards for your friends. We can show our friends some love from a far by buying gift cards and making some future plans. Most businesses have extended their policies on expiration dates to accommodate during this crisis. If you don’t have the funds, help us with your time. Email or call your local officials and tell them that our local businesses need help. We need rent relief, we need better unemployment assistance, we need more grant options and better rental rights. If you don’t have the time or funds, share with your friends to open a dialog and get the community talking.
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