On Monday morning this week, I woke up and prepared myself to shut the business my husband and I have spent 5 years and all of our savings to build. The dream we had to create something lasting for ourselves and our community was potentially coming to an end. Last year, we leveraged our early success to build a second production facility and expanded our sales into New York and Pennsylvania using distribution partners in those states. We overcame a government shutdown that halted our plans, but not our expenses, and we opened that facility in July. We sunk more of our savings into this expansion and took on more debt to make it happen. We knew it would be worth the risk. The American Dream is ALWAYS worth the risk.
Yesterday, we went to work and laid off most of our staff with the promise that we would rehire them as soon as the crisis was over, not knowing whether that was an empty promise or not, but dearly hoping that it was true.
By mid-day, it was done. Governor Murphy had, wisely for the sake of the greater community, ordered my business to essentially shut down. As a small craft brewery, I am now allowed to sell cans of beer to customers for take-away only. Ordinarily, this would represent just 10% of my yearly sales. Now I have to make that 10% cover everything. Our distribution partners in PA and NY have advised us that they will not be making any purchases for the foreseeable future. I understand this even while it is a crushing pain. After all, their customers have also been ordered to shut down. I can’t expect them to purchase a product they have no hope of selling.
Over the last few days, as the crisis has unfolded, I’ve heard various government officials discuss the impact of SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19. I’ve heard about the impact to the airline and cruise industries. I’ve heard about the impact to the financial systems and the markets. I’ve heard about the tragedy of Americans losing their jobs due to business closures and the need for emergency unemployment for those individuals. There has been discussion and bills passed about mandatory sick leave for employees at companies with less than 500 employees (Why are big companies exempted when they are better positioned to afford paying staff?).
Something is missing.
Nobody is addressing the millions — no, billions — of dollars currently held by small businesses and sole proprietors in the form of loans and other ongoing liabilities: rent, mortgages, commercial vehicle payments, liability insurance. In our own case, we spent nearly $500k of our own money, and borrowed nearly $1MM to build out our expansion and grow our business. We planned for a lot of potential risks. We didn’t plan for a global pandemic. We have over $30,000 in monthly expenses just to service that debt, to say nothing of raw materials and payroll. But we were on track to make that work and continue our growth. We were on track to succeed and add to our workforce — our family. No more. Today I’m wondering how I can pay my bills. Today I’m wondering if I can keep our dream alive or if it is all gone.
My elected officials are talking about emergency small business loans. To be honest loans aren’t helpful right now. That just digs the hole deeper. But it’s something, right? So, I logged on to the SBA’s Disaster Loan Program website. Unfortunately, New Jersey is not listed as a disaster area and therefore I cannot even apply for the emergency loans the president promised. Congress is talking about bailing out airlines that aren’t flying. I’m wondering how I can pay my rent and airlines that make billions every year are going to get more free government money? I might lose everything — my business, my home, my future, my dreams. But hey, as long as the airlines get another tax break, that will surely trickle down, right?
How can I be expected to pay sales tax, property tax, excise tax, payroll taxes, rent, and service loans, when the state has ordered me to close my business? If I can’t run my business, why should the banks continue to make more money? The Federal Reserve is injecting hundreds of billions into the financial markets, but this money needs to be used to help every day Americans stay afloat, not to ensure the CEOs can continue to hang out on their yachts.
The government needs to order all lenders to suspend debt collection and require a mandatory suspension of all payments until this crisis is over for any business affected by government mandated closures, and for any American laid off as a result. To do anything less will destroy the American Dream for a generation.