Pandemic Chronicles: Small businesses fight for help

Grant programs underfunded, provisions often unclear

PHOTO/TABU MCKNIGHT: A customer gets a haircut prior to the pandemic at Tabu's of Reno Barber Lounge, 233 S. Sierra St.

All year Jennifer Martin and Denelle Padgett have been working for free at their yoga apparel store. As co-founders of Satori Movement, previously known as Hello Yoga Apparel, they struggled just to pay rent.

Their doors were closed during the three months of quarantine, beginning in March. They know that some help for small businesses is available, but they are still waiting.

“We’ve barely made any money,” said Martin. “The uncertainty is scary.”

Businesses still reeling from shutdown

Since the shutdown, small businesses are still fighting to recover. Various COVID-19 relief grants to help small enterprises survive the crisis have been available. But some business owners are struggling to navigate the programs.

PHOTO/SATORI MOVEMENT: Denelle Padgett and Jennifer Martin, owners of Satori Movement, formerly known as Hello Yoga, 732 S. Virginia St. in Reno.

Martin and Padgett had applied for the Audacity Institute’s small business relief fund for minorities and women-run businesses, but were denied funding on Oct. 23. Institute officials said they received almost 400 applications and the program only had just $1 million available. Almost too late, Martin and Padgett heard about the expansion of the Pandemic Emergency Technical Support (PETS) grant, a COVID-19 program for small businesses and nonprofits.

That deadline, initially set for Nov. 2, was changed to 5 p.m. on Oct. 22, giving them just a few hours to seize the opportunity. They made the deadline. Now they wait.

More grant money made available

On the plus side, the budget for PETS increased from $20 million to $40 million. Eligible businesses each may receive up to $10,000. 

“Small businesses throughout Nevada have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19 and this new program will streamline the process to get relief funding out to folks who need it very quickly,” said Gov. Steve Sisolak, in a press release last week. “If your organization has been hurt by the pandemic and you need help with operational costs or expenses to keep your customers safe, I urge you to apply. At a time when our small businesses have made such great sacrifices, it was my priority to ensure the State gets them the support they need and deserve.”

Tabu Mcknight, the owner of Tabu’s of Reno Barber Lounge, 233 S. Sierra St., looked for government assistance in March, when non-essential businesses were ordered to close down. He called local and state offices, but no programs had been set up then.

“I just felt like if you’re going to mandate something, at least have a program in place to subsidize our income or give us some assistance,” Mcknight said.

PHOTO/TABU’S OF RENO: Tabu McKnight in his barber shop.

A slow recovery process

His shop reopened in May. McKnight said he considers himself blessed because his barbershop has been relatively busy since then. Still, revenues haven’t reached pre-pandemic levels. In addition, the new normal has changed the atmosphere of what had been a social center as well as a business enterprise.

“People can’t just sit here and talk to each other,” McKnight said. “Whatever makes people feel welcome when they come to a barbershop is different.”

It’s less social when the COVID-19 protocols are in place. And some former customers opt for cutting their hair at home, he said. Those do-it-yourselfers are eating into his profits, he said.

As McKnight waits for the pandemic to end, he’s worried about what the future holds. He applied for a PETS grant and holds out hope he’ll get it. That, he said, will provide a safety net for the future.

“I don’t know what’s coming next,” said McKnight. “I don’t know if they’re going to shut down again because of the spikes. I don’t know if the (lease) rate for my building is going to increase. There are a lot of uncertainties that I have.” 

One size doesn’t fit all

Some business owners said they didn’t find out about the program or the tighter deadline until it was too late.

It’s been a rough year for Mckenzie Dimino, the owner of The Brow Chick salon, 46 W. 1st St. in Reno. Her business had its grand opening March 2, but was shut down 15 days later. It was four months before she was able to reopen.

“It was tough because I spent all my savings on my salon,” said Dimino. “I’ve been working seven days a week to keep it open.”

Dimino received $3,000 from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act during the shutdown. However, when she tried applying for other grants such as the Audacity Institute relief fund, they required many legal papers to prove that she was affected. Because her business was so new, she was unable to meet the requirements. She did not know that she would have been eligible for a PETS grant until the day after the deadline.

Owners burn through their savings

Dimino, a single parent, exhausted her savings to pay the back rent for her business.  She also had to come up with money to pay her house rent and utility bills. The PETS grant would have compensated her for some of those outlays, she said.  

Now, she is trying to stay positive and hope for the best. However, many of her nurse clients informed her that there’s a possibility of another shutdown this winter.

“This is my first year being open and the entire year was one thing after another,” said Dimino. “I’m just gonna keep trying to stay open as long as possible.”

Martin and Padgett, at the Satori yoga apparel store, are keeping their fingers crossed as they await word about the PETS grant.

Going into debt to remain open

The partners took out a $7,000 loan to help keep the business afloat. With the grant, they hope they can pay off some of their debt and finally pay themselves.

McKnight , who also applied for the PETS program, said that people forget small business owners also have families to take care of and often, their business is their only source of income.

“I have to keep my business open and also make sure my family is provided for,” he said.

McKnight said that all businesses are suffering during the COVID-19 crisis, but many small businesses are already on the edge and don’t have much of a financial cushion to see them through a long-term hardship situation. In addition, he said, the programs often are put together quickly and their requirements – and even their existence – aren’t communicated very well.

“We have to take care of the people that are keeping our community alive,” McKnight said. “Let’s not treat them like they’re second class.”

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