City, state provide loans to help small businesses stay afloat

The Coffee Trader, on South Fifth Street, has signs in front of its doors indicating the inside is closed but still available by delivery, drive-through or take out. 

Although essential businesses are allowed to stay open during this COVID-19 pandemic, such companies are learning to adapt to the changes.

That’s been the case for a frequented local coffee shop.

Dee Coram, co-owner of The Coffee Trader, said the two local shops, located at South Fifth Street and Main Street, have been “tremendously impacted” even though they’ve remained open because the coronavirus crisis has made them re-adjust how they do business.

The Fifth Street location has been utilizing it’s drive-through while both shops have hung up the chairs for seating inside. Customers can still order coffee, but it has to be by delivery or pick-up.

“It’s (been) a tremendous loss in overall revenue,” Coram said.

Coram said he considers the stores lucky, however, considering they’ve been able to offer these options while other stores have had to cease operations altogether, albeit temporarily.

But the City of Montrose has recently put a program in place to help both essential and non-essential businesses.

Montrose City Council, during Tuesday’s meeting, approved a measure providing initiatives that will aid small businesses that have been forced to close or experience economic hardship as a result of COVID-19.

Businesses can apply for the relief package on the city’s website by and then click the “complete the online application” link.

Small businesses can apply for funds to pay their fixed debt, provide for employees, pay their rent or other necessary monthly expenses to make sure they can stay viable and reopen after the crisis is over.

Coram, who has applied for the relief package, said he has yet to determine what the funds will be used for if his business receives them.

As part of the measure, council will now defer all small business sales tax remittance for 90 days, provide zero-percent interest loans to modest-sized companies and move funds budgeted for tourism promotion, giving local businesses a means to market and advertise their services.

The funds for the assistance program will come out of the existing Greater Montrose Opportunity Loan Fund, Downtown Opportunity Loan Fund, and remaining DDA operational account monies. The loan program will begin with $300,000 to distribute to businesses in need.

Companies with less than $2 million in gross annual sales will have the option to delay city sales tax remittance for the next roughly three months. The city believes this will keep around $3 million for area business owners who may be struggling at this time.

The application process and tracking of these loans will be a joint effort between the City of Montrose and Region 10.

Although the businesses will not need to pay sales tax remittance for 90 days, they’ll be required to report monthly.

Council members also approved a $300,000 fund dedicated to providing small businesses with zero-percent loans and no repayment requirements for at least 12 months. These loans of up to $5,000 per applicant are designed to assist businesses forced to close by state mandate or those that have suffered significant financial loss due to COVID-19.

“Anything that the city can do to help we greatly appreciate,” Coram said.

City Manager Bill Bell said during the council meeting that these funds could change because they’re based on how long the current coronavirus pandemic lasts.

“We may be coming back to council in 90 days or 120 days asking for more money,” he said. “(It’s) dependent on the needs of our business community. It would be up to council at that time.”

Coram said he’s hopeful the city will continue to find avenues to better local small businesses.

The Coffee Trader is seeking any such funds “that we can get our hands-on,” he added.

But locals need to rally for each area small business because those are “the hearts and souls” of Montrose, Coram said.

“It’s going to be a community effort when we get out of this (because) all of the small businesses and the families rebuild,” he said.

“... One thing that people want more than anything is for a return to normalcy. A way to return to normalcy is to walk into those small businesses when this is all said and done,” Coram added. “We have to work hard collectively to make sure those businesses are still here for the community at the end of it.”

Some businesses can also apply for help at the state level.

Starting Friday, small businesses that have fewer than 500 employees can also apply for payroll loans at the state level thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program.

The program allocates $349 billion in forgivable loans to help small businesses, independent contractors and nonprofits meet payroll and rent needs, according to an email from Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

But the Paycheck Protection Program has had some wondering if it will provide aid to critical access hospitals and rural health clinics.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) recently sent a letter to the Small Business Administration requesting that CAHs and RHCs be permitted to obtain loan assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program. This letter was co-signed by Colorado Reps. Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Joe Neguse and U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet.

“It’s bad enough that rural health care providers are still fighting to receive additional personal protective equipment so they can provide care to patients. Added fear that many employees won’t keep their jobs amid a public health crisis is unacceptable,” Tipton said in a provided statement.

“I appreciate what the Small Business Administration is doing to quickly address immediate needs of businesses all over the country, but our greatest urgency is continued attention to healthcare workers, and this issue must be resolved immediately. Under normal circumstances, many healthcare centers and hospitals in rural areas struggle to meet the demands of their communities with limited resources, and this sudden influx of sick patients adds significant pressure to an already tough situation,” he added.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually end, Coram said that doesn’t mean small businesses will be able to recover right away, adding this situation isn’t a faucet that can be turned on overnight.

“It’s going to be a slow trickle,” he said. “It really depends on how long this does drag out.”

Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.

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