MILWAUKEE — ​The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on businesses all across the country, including in the Milwaukee area. 

At Cream City Print Lounge in West Allis, owner Rachaad Howard said the coronavirus nearly forced him to close. 

He opened at the store's current location roughly two and a half years ago. While he could still print and sell shirts online while most of the state's economy shut down for a portion of 2020, Howard said a major source of revenue is the experience he sells of allowing groups to come in, hang out at the store's bar, and print shirts themselves. 

"The whole basis of this store was to have people coming in and creating their own shirts," Howard said. "When you can't do that, that took away the biggest stream of revenue we had coming in."

During the height of the pandemic, Howard had to stay open relying solely on online shirt sales. 

"How close were you to closing?" Spectrum News 1 asked him.

"Really close, actually," Howard said. 

At the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Executive Vice President Kenneth Robertson said Howard's story is a microcosm of what many business owners experienced for much of 2020.

"We have people that are creative and they just need someone to help balance the playing field," Robertson said.

So this year, Robertson said the Greater Milwaukee Foundation sent a group of its employees into businesses across the area with the goal of "finding out what their needs are," in an economic climate that continues to be influenced by COVID-19.

"A lot of them are family-owned type businesses," Robertson said. "So they needed to start traffic flowing again, to start getting people back in these stores."

In response to those calls for help, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation green-lit low-interest loans of up to $50-thousand, with no payment due back for the first year, to 17 businesses in the Milwaukee area. 

"We have an opportunity to provide that spark," Robertson said, "in the form of that access to capital." 

At Cream City Print Lounge, Howard applied for a loan and received it.

He's now using the money to boost his business' marketing and promotions efforts. 

"I'm just pretty excited to get it," Howard said. "It's helped expand a lot of things."

He added that persevering through the worst of the pandemic helped him become a more resourceful, and resilient, business owner.

"As long as you keep your options open, and can stay innovative and creative, you can do anything," Howard said. "You don't have to stick to the plan, because there's always a new way, or a next way, to keep something going."