LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In late May, after more than two months of only offering carry out service, Primo’s Pizzeria owner Ankit Chudgar re-opened his dining room to customers. He also brought back some of the employees who, like much of the country, had spent the past several months quarantined at home.
Chudgar soon found that the economics of that situation were out of balance. “My own preference is to always have two employees here when we have people coming in and out of the restaurant, but our sales did not allow for that,” he said.
So Chudgar turned to the loan he’d taken out in April as a part of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He was able to cover salaries and bills with the forgiveable loan. “It kept us afloat,” Chudgar said.
Now, nearly six months later, the pandemic is still here, sales at Primo’s have not fully recovered, and Chudgar is pleading for another round of relief from the federal government. "No matter what side of politics you are on, independent restaurants like Primo's Pizzeria need your help," he recently wrote on the restaurant's Facebook page. "Reach out to your elected officials, make sure they do what needs to be done."
He's hardly alone. All around the country, businesses big and small are clamoring for help from Washington, D.C. as funds from the first round of PPP run out.
“PPP was designed for a three-week emergency,” said Jennifer Rubenstein, director of the Louisville Independent Business Alliance. “People really need another form of relief now or their businesses are going to close.”
The most recent data from Yelp shows that, as of the end of August, nearly 100,000 small businesses in the U.S. have permanently closed due to the pandemic. Those that haven’t, like Primo’s, are staring down a bleak winter. “Most of us are teetering on the edge, and with conditions getting worse right now, we’re going to get less and less traffic,” Chudgar said. ”Without another stimulus I don’t think very many of us will make it to spring.”
Pessimism is understandable as the pandemic enters its eighth month and is only getting worse. The country has set several records for cases this month, some states are once against closing in-person dining, and Kentucky is seeing the worse positivity rate it has during the crisis. And then there’s the weather. Rubenstein said falling temperatures “have a huge impact on businesses that rely on people coming inside, which have been able to alter somewhat and eke by with outdoor seating or sidewalk sales.”
Business owners are “frustrated,” Rubenstein said, by the lack of progress toward another stimulus package. It’s an issue lawmakers in the nation’s capital have debated for months. In May, House Democrats passed the HEROES Act, a $3.4 trillion relief bill. After months of negotiations with the White House, Democrats passed a pared down version of the bill last month. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take up the bill in the upper chamber. The Kentuckian says Senate Republicans would approve a smaller package.
“It just seems like the politics of bipartisanship is rearing its ugly head and the stuff that needs to get done doesn’t get done,” Chudgar said.
Unlike politicians, business owners, especially those who run small, independent shops, can’t punt on their responsibilities. “There’s no corporate office to help us out,” Chudgar said. “We still have to pay all of our vendors, our landlord, our regular bills. But we’re not getting the regular revenues.”