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Area businesses seek state help to weather closures

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Nathaniel Bottone was saying goodbye to customers and employees Friday before closing Salon Nathaniel on East Main Street in Meriden and his other shop in Wallingford.

“This is our last day here for the next two weeks,” Bottone said. “Then we will be reevaluating the situation and staying current and up to date with what is coming down from the Connecticut Department of Public Health. We’re taking it day by day at the moment.”

Hair salons, nail salons, barbershops, and tattoo and body piercing shops are the latest businesses the Lamont administration ordered closed to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Earlier this week, Lamont and governors in New York and New Jersey agreed to a shut down of bars and restaurants, and implemented bans against gatherings of more than 10 people. 

Bottone has 25 employees at his Meriden salon and his new Salon Nathaniel Signature salon in Wallingford, The employees may be able to collect unemployment, he said. 

Like other salon owners, Bottone is hoping for assistance from the state.

“I’m definitely keeping up to date and well versed on the possible loans available,” he said. “I’m looking at all different options and making sure we can wait it out.”

Leslie Kogut, owner of Leslie K on Broad Street in Meriden, faces the same predicament. While her 10 employees are eligible for unemployment, she is unsure of what help she will get. The Friday night closing deadline was unfortunate, Kogut said.

”We were hoping they would give us to the end of our work week, which is Saturday,” Kogut said. “We had to bring in tomorrow’s customers today and I’m trying to keep it under 10 people in the shop.”

She turned away one customer receiving radiation treatments, and although she felt badly, Kogut didn’t want to compromise her health. She empathizes with a bride who had to cancel and the elderly clients who are like family.

“We are sending them off with our sample shampoos because they can’t get it in the stores, some product to use at home,” she said. “I gave away a curling iron.”

Researching available assistance for small businesses is Kogut’s priority during the shutdown.

On Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont and officials of the state Department of Economic and Community Development outlined plans for an emergency bridge loan program for state businesses expected to start next week.

More than 2,000 representatives of state businesses participated in the call to get answers and participate in a statewide survey. Survey answers will help guide programs and policy decisions during the coronavirus shutdown and afterward, a spokesman said.

“That is one of our real priorities for small business — to give you at least enough firepower and gun powder that you can power through what is really an unprecedented time for this state,” Lamont said.

He said the outbreak of the virus could last from three to nine months.

DECD Commissioner David Lehman said the state wants to offer small businesses interest-free or low interest loans to cover operating costs for three months or so.

State officials are considering providing zero to one percent recovery loans for 12 or 18 months, while the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering disaster relief loans at 3.75 percent for up to 30 years, Lehman said. 

About 80 percent of Connecticut businesses that responded to the survey expect sales and revenue declines. He said 50 percent remain open, 39 percent are running at reduced capacity, and 12 percent are closed.

 Lamont recently acted to defer loan payments for all Small Business Express loans for three months.

The Department of Banking has also asked state-chartered banks and credit unions to provide relief to small businesses and consumers.

Banking regulators suggested banks and credit unions consider offering payment accommodations such as allowing borrowers to defer some payments or extending the payment due dates

Lehman explained that unlike the recession of 2008 and 2009, the banking industry is in good health and in a position to assist businesses and consumers.

“I can’t do it by mandate, but I think we are going to find they are going to be willing partners for each and every one of you over the next six months,” Lamont said during Thursday’s conference call.

The Department of Revenue Services has granted an automatic extension of Connecticut filing deadlines for certain annual tax returns. DRS also said it will adjust filing and payment dates to match any changes from the Internal Revenue Service.

Mall management has closed Westfield Meriden mall, and Kohl’s announced it had closed its stores Thursday night. Real estate firms such as Calcagni are hosting virtual open houses to maintain social distancing.

For Bottone and Kogut, any help is appreciated as they navigate the next few weeks. The salon and barber communities are “tight” and support each other, Bottone said.

“We have a good team and we’ll get through this,” he said.

The City of Meriden is also assisting businesses with information about available programs and have contacted owners by phone and e-mail, in Spanish and English.

“The city and Economic Development Department are here to help any business affected by this pandemic,” said director Joseph Feest. “At this time we are following the state and federal government programs. The programs are rolling out and we have had several webinars about the process, and who can apply for them.”

Feest said he is especially sensitive to the first round of businesses that have to shut down and plans to keep the business community apprised of new programs and policies.

“I am afraid that all facets of our economy can be affected during this pandemic,” Feest said. “The restaurant industry is an important group that employs a wide range of people that have already been laid off along with many other sections.”

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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