The coronavirus pandemic has dragged the U.S. economy through the woodchipper — leaving businesses between a rock and a hard place. Because of safety concerns and a drop in consumer demand, my wife and I were compelled to temporarily close down our furniture design business in Missouri. Thankfully, the Trump administration and Congress extended a financial lifeline via the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that encouraged us to reopen.
The Missouri economy fell apart once health and safety protocols compelled businesses to shut down; some are sadly closed permanently. For example, Dimvaloo — a clothing boutique in St. Louis — was choked financially and closed their storefront in April. Ready Room — a bar and music venue — also shuttered. Ryder’s Tavern is yet another fatality.
Closures — both permanent and temporary — have sparked an employment crisis.
According to the latest data, more than 285,000 Missourians lost their job in April alone — which pushed the unemployment rate to 9.7 percent. Only the Great Recession exhibited worse economic conditions in the state and the situation is likely to devolve further as the statistics catch-up with reality. Missouri is a microcosm for the country where millions of Americans are out of work.
Fortunately, our business is one of the lucky ones. A strong financial footing going into the crisis and low overhead costs all but guaranteed eventual survival. But survival is not the end-all-be-all goal. Getting the business open as quickly — and safely — as possible is the ultimate objective. The small business community needs to trigger a strong and robust recovery so the country can get back on its feet.
That’s exactly what a forgivable loan through the PPP empowered our business to do.
Shubert Design Furniture applied for the financial lifeline in early April. Although the program’s rollout had hiccups, it worked well for us. Roughly one week after applying, the funds were parked in the bank account. It gave us the extra push needed to recall our 25 employees and resume operations. Now, we’re back better than ever.
Our 22,000 square-foot showroom is perfect to conduct business under social distancing protocols. The furniture designers meet with one couple at a time by appointment only and follow strict hygiene guidelines. Moreover, we’ve launched a new service that allows customers to virtually view certain pieces of furniture as they would look in a room. Delivery drivers and warehouse workers sport masks, gloves, hair coverings, and other protective equipment. Since reopening, the team has made hundreds of deliveries without a single snag.
The best part? Sales are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Designers and salespeople are backed-up by nearly a week with orders. It just goes to show that Americans crave visiting a small business just as much as entrepreneurs are ready to welcome them back.
We’re not the only success story in the state. More than 85,000 PPP loans totaling over $9 billion have been approved in Missouri; more than 4.4 million loans have been approved nationwide. And new legislation that was just approved by Congress will give entrepreneurs more flexibility for spending the money. Small business owners will not only have a longer timeframe to utilize the funds but 40 percent of the forgivable loan — rather than 25 percent — can be used for expenses other than payroll.
The Paycheck Protection Program gave my business and millions of others a running start into the post-pandemic economy. My wife and I are thankful our business can continue to pay our workers, serve our customers, and help the Show-Me State make a quick recovery.
Jim Shubert, along with his wife, owns Shubert Design Furniture in Missouri and is a partner of the Job Creators Network Foundation.