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Waseca small businesses are experiencing a loss due to COVID-19 keeping them closed or offering limited services. (County News file photo)

Small businesses are suffering.

COVID-19 has brought numerous policy and procedure changes for businesses along with cancelling school and closing other public areas.

Waseca is filled with many small businesses that have received local support from residents and government groups to keep operational.

At the most recent Waseca City Council meeting Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Fitch shared with the council and those watching how the small businesses in town are doing.

“Luckily, Waseca is no worse off than any other community in the state,” Fitch said in an email. “That being said, our retail businesses are down between 80 percent and 90 percent, restaurants are down between 50 percent and 75 percent, bars are down 100 percent, salons and the like are down 100 percent, health professions (excluding Mayo) are down between 80 percent and 100 percent, and the list goes on.”

Restaurants may be positive online and doing take-out, but that doesn’t bring the volume of customers that a regular day would. Retail businesses are now able to do curbside pick-up and deliveries but they are still down.

“It’s a really huge hit to them and we hope to see an uptick in business as they do curbside and delivery business,” Fitch said.

While some businesses are seeing a decline in business the only grocery store in Waseca, Walmart, is seeing Black Friday numbers most days.

She said trade businesses are steady still, the plumbers and the electricians we have not seen a huge dip in business as well as the professional services industry is dependent on industry.

Self-employed, especially cosmopolitan workers, are in dire states as they are going on eight weeks with no paycheck, Fitch said.

“I don’t know about you but two months without an income is extremely stressful even though the Minnesota unemployment process is one of the fastest in the country, we still can not go fast enough to rewrite the rules for the self employed folks,” Fitch said.

Fitch also spoke about the unemployment rate and how it has increased.

According to the Minnesota Employment and Economic Development website the county is at about a 13 percent unemployment rate and that’s about a nine percent increase in the last two months.

A positive note Fitch said was that most people are unable to spend their disposable income right now since there’s not much to do so she thinks that is going to help Waseca when it can fully open again because people will have that income to give an energetic boost to the economy.

There is another positive Fitch shared during the council meeting and that is craft breweries being able to deliver. Half Pint Brewery and Ward House are doing this and Fitch hopes this can continue after businesses open back up fully.

Economic relief for businesses

While businesses are closed, open partially like take-out and curbside, there have been some efforts locally and at the state and federal level to give relief.

“There were some really unrealistic expectations put out via the CARES Act for the SBA (Small Business Association),” Fitch said.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020. This over $2 trillion economic relief package delivers on the Trump Administration’s commitment to protecting the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Treasury website states “the CARES Act provides fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses and preserve jobs for our American industries.”

“The CARES Act said that if you put in an application you would hear back in three days and that was unrealistic,” Fitch said. “They were running through 14 years worth of loans in 14 days. I think that’s an unrealistic expectation from the SBA and I wish that the federal government had not put those expectations on because it was hard for small businesses to accept that they were not going to get contacted to say they got their application.”

MN DEED came out with a loan program up to $35,000 with zero percent interest and that went toward the businesses that were mandated to close during the first executive order and some local businesses had success with that program, according to Fitch.

Local support

“Waseca’s local help has been nothing short of extraordinary,” Fitch said in an email. “The Waseca EDA was the first in the state to set up and fund a local emergency relief loan program. From inception to funding, it was roughly a three-week process. The loan program helped out about 35 businesses by spreading out $225,0000, from the EDA. The EDA knew that the federal dollars were not flowing to businesses as fast as they needed it to, so Waseca stepped in to fill the gap.”

Other local help came from local banks; First National Bank, United Prairie Bank, Diversified Credit Union and Roundbank got all of the Paycheck Protection Program loans processed for the business community. Tens of millions of dollars were lent out locally through that program.

PPP was set up through the CARES Act and implemented by the Small Business Administration with the support of the Department of Treasury. This program provides small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits or the funds can be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.

The chamber, has been fielding many calls and emails from members and non-members. The chamber is working to get answers for business owners.

“Our office has been part of many requests to the Governor’s Office asking for equality for all businesses regarding who is allowed to be open,” Fitch said in an email. “Our small retailers just want the same opportunity to be open as the larger box stores.”

Future for businesses

Moving forward businesses are coming up with COVID-19 Preparedness Plans.

MN DEED has an easy to use template for businesses of all sizes to use to create the safety plans. This is something that every business will need to have.

The chamber has also made and will distribute a flyer for the front door of businesses, which has a place to check off which safety measures the business is taking and fill in what the maximum occupancy for their business is. The Chamber and the City of Waseca are working on ways to help restaurants when they are allowed to open to dine-in customers.

To raise spirits the chamber will be starting a game called “Back in Biz Bingo.”

When all of the businesses are full strength the chamber will have a card that people take to local businesses, get a stamp for a purchase that they make, as soon as they have a bingo they turn it into the chamber, and the chamber will put the person in a drawing for some prizes.

Another way the chamber is bringing members together and keeping them engaged is through a virtual happy hour that they held recently. This was a chance for familiar faces to see each other and to catch up.

“Thankfully, as of now, we have not heard anyone will shudder their doors for good,” Fitch said. “Our business community has been financially debilitated by this epidemic, but is staying strong. Entrepreneurs are not built from weakness, it takes a special kind of grit to grind for 70 hours a week at your business. When Waseca and the rest of the state are fully open for commerce, we need to make sure we show our businesses how much we missed them.”

Reach Reporter Bailey Grubish at 507-837-5451 or follow her on Twitter @wcnbailey. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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