MERIDEN — The holiday lights at the Silver City Ballroom have brightened Colony Street in past years. This year they stayed dark to save on utility costs.
Business owner Joseph Florio and his partners haven’t hosted a wedding, anniversary, Quinceañera, or conference at the venue since March. The state’s reopening rules prohibiting crowds didn’t do much to help a business that caters to parties of 50 to 300 people.
“I feel like the last man standing,” Florio said. “I think most restaurants are getting by. Through take-out and pickup they are still able to make something. With a limit of ten people I can’t do anything.”
Florio received a $10,000 Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan in the spring and paid utility costs to keep the ballroom open. He only received $10,000 because the PPP loan was designed to help employers keep employees. As an entertainment venue, Florio is his only employee. He received another $5,000 grant from the city that he used to pay other costs. The business is 10 months behind on its $3,500 a month rent that he hopes to pay off through a low-interest federal disaster relief loan.
Florio and other entrepreneurs are looking closely at the second round of PPP loans included in the most recently passed $900 billion coronavirus relief and stimulus package signed by President Trump on Sunday. Among its provisions: an extension of last spring’s Paycheck Protection Program, allowing another $284 billion or so in forgivable, federally backed loans for ailing small businesses. This time, the loans are capped at $2 million, rather than $10 million.
The stimulus bill also includes direct payment checks of up to $600 per adult and child, enhanced unemployment insurance benefits of $300 per week, extension of the eviction moratorium, $25 billion for rental assistance and extension of the tax credit for employers offering paid sick leave.
According to state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman, Connecticut companies and nonprofits have secured almost 65,000 PPP loans worth approximately $6.7 billion.
“The PPP – Paycheck Protection Program – has been a lifeline for most small businesses, allowing them to keep valued employees working, while also covering other key expenses such as rent and utilities,” said Rosanne Ford, president of the Midstate Chamber of Commerce. “In the first round it saved many businesses from closing. Now most of those businesses are waiting to see if their PPP loan will be forgiven.”
This new round of PPP funding will help companies that may have not received PPP funds earlier in the year, Ford continued. It allows businesses with fewer than 300 employees that have more than 30% revenue loss in any quarter in 2020 to secure a second forgivable PPP loan.
“All businesses that meet the criteria should prepare now to apply for the funds,” Ford said.
Bob Torres, owner of This Toy Life, 169 Center St., Wallingford, received approval to open his shop in March, the same day the state ordered all non-essential businesses to close.
“I wasn’t allowed to open until phase II in May,” Torres said. “I wasn’t approved (for PPP) because I had no income from the year before. I applied for unemployment, but I was a business owner who didn’t get anything.”
Much of This Toy Life’s operation involves tournament play and hands on retail. So when he finally opened, it had to be outside with safe distancing and sanitizing protocols. Torres has received some marketing assistance from Wallingford Center Inc., a business advocacy group, and is looking into applying for a PPP loan, providing it’s forgivable. A loan obligation on his fledgling business would be problematic.
“I’m not taking out a loan,” Torres said. “But it would be nice to get something. My landlord didn’t stop collecting rent through all of this.”
Kathy Lilley, executive director of Wallingford Center Inc., is getting herself up to speed on the latest rules of the PPP program so she can help downtown business owners like Torres.
Meriden’s Economic Development Director Joseph Feest has also assisted small business owners.
“The rules are actually still being worked on and all the details aren’t out yet,” Feest said. “The same types of businesses that applied before will be eligible again. This includes the hard-hit restaurant and retail industries. The next couple of months can be difficult ones for businesses just coming off the holidays. This second round will hopefully keep people employed and able to pay their bills.”
Florio and his partners have opened up the ballroom to allow local musical artists to perform on their YouTube channel Dirty Laundry CT. Although the weekly sessions give the partners and the musicians a sense of working again, nobody is getting paid.
The Meriden Housing Authority owns the Silver City Ballroom but has not pressured the partners for payment. Florio speculates that by keeping him there and waiting for rent they avoid another vacant building downtown.
MHA Executive Director Robert Cappelletti could not be reached for comment Monday.
For more information on the PPP loans, businesses are urged to contact their bankers or the Small Business Administration at 800-659-2955 or by email at email@example.com. Guidance is also available on the SBA website https://www.sba.gov/.