The now rapid spread of coronavirus across the United States and the threat of more shutdowns is leaving small businesses on edge.
With no assurance that Congress will provide more stimulus soon, many business owners wonder how much longer they can hang on.
Melanie Lichtfeld is the fourth-generation owner of Lichtfeld Plumbing, a family-run plumbing service in Madison, Wisconsin. The company first opened in 1895, but Lichtfeld worries this year might be its last unless one of two things happens: The local economy starts functioning more normally or lawmakers get money into people's hands quickly.
Like a lot of small business owners, she would welcome a shot at getting a second Paycheck Protection Program loan to continue paying her employees. But just as important, Lichtfeld said, is for Congress to sign off on more stimulus checks and perhaps another supplement to unemployment benefits.
"We need to help people," she said. Otherwise, small businesses will be left in the lurch. "You have a hard time paying [employees] and keeping your doors open if you don't have money coming in."
At the moment, Lichtfeld said about 10% of her sales result in IOUs, including from one customer who ordered a new toilet but couldn't pay because her unemployment ran out. "We're a [cash on delivery] business and [a 10% IOU rate] is pretty high. Plumbing isn't cheap. We're talking $300 to $400 for a minimal repair job."
"We take care of those people but how long can we do that before we need help, too?" Lichtfeld asked.
Late payments have become more typical across many types of businesses. Invoiced, an accounts receivable software provider, found that between January and September, the average time it took its universe of clients (largely small businesses) to collect payment on their sales of goods and services rose to 286 days in September, up from 64 days in January.
Using personal savings to keep the business afloat
In Anaheim, California, the Disneyland Resort has been shuttered since March. Tourists have been scarce, convention centers empty. As a result, Karmel Shuttle Service went from booking up to 500 rides per day before March to booking just 140 rides for the entire month of October, said co-owner Mike Afram.
Afram said he hopes Congress will not only let businesses apply for a second PPP loan but forgive such loans in full even if they're used entirely for operating expenses. Beyond Karmel's rent, utilities and vehicle maintenance, he has to keep up with insurance payments to maintain his state licensing and cover auto liability.
"I could ground the vehicles and suspend my insurance. But then I've lost my licensing," Afram said.
It pained him to lay off most of his employees in March — some of whom had been with him for 20 years, he said. But Afram decided to use his first PPP loan primarily to pay operating expenses to better ensure they had a company to come back to.
Still, after eight months and counting, he has begun putting his own savings into the business to stay afloat. "We're coming down to the very end here. How much longer can we keep doing that?" he asks.
Another shutdown could be fatal
In Austin, Texas, Sharon Mays owns Baby Greens, a fast food salad restaurant and caterer, which primarily is used by businesses operating out of office buildings. She is also unsure what she will do without financial help soon.
"My catering business has not generated one dollar since March. My landlord allowed me to defer my May-June-July rents, but is making me pay it back with 12% interest. And my property taxes have gone up significantly. So now in addition to no revenue, my monthly payment to my landlord has increased by almost 50%," Mays said in an email.
Her restaurant business has slowed considerably for this time of year — normally her slow period doesn't start until December.
Mays gets some money from the city of Austin because she is participating in a program to feed those in need. But, she said, "This is a government program so the funding could get cut at any point."
Seeing the recent surge in COVID cases in El Paso, Mays worries Thanksgiving could be a tough time for Austin in terms of the virus.
"I don't even want to think what's going to happen to restaurants if there's another shutdown. A shutdown during a slow time of year could be fatal for Baby Greens," Mays said.
A second PPP loan could help employees stay healthy
Heather Biagas owns Lil' Mama's Kitchen, a wholesale bakery in nearby Round Rock, Texas. She also worries that Austin might become a COVID hot zone.
Since she doesn't run a retail operation, Biagas remains confident she'd be able to generate some business even if there's another shutdown, but it would still cut into her revenue since her customers' businesses would be affected. That, in turn, would make it harder for her to keep paying her small staff.
"We would have to tighten our belt [by reducing] hours," she said.
She used her first PPP loan in its entirety to pay her employees during the spring shutdown. And she said she would apply for another if given the chance.
"Keeping my staff employed helps them financially, but also emotionally, physically and mentally," Biagas said.