A recent survey of local businesses conducted by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce found many businesses have taken a massive hit in revenues since the coronavirus outbreak and few have received assistance from the federal government.
According to Chamber of Commerce CEO and Pres. Jim Dantona, the survey included 230 respondents and 60 percent of those survey takers report having fewer than 10 employees.
"Forget the idea of less than 500, it's less than 10," Dantona said. "Those are the businesses that make up our community."
About 50 percent of respondents said they'd applied for an emergency disaster loan, the Paycheck Protection Act, or both. According to Dantona, 40 percent of those business owners received a positive response from the government, either granting their full request for financial assistance, a partial loan fulfillment, or notice that their application had been approved.
The first round of PPP approvals comes at a time when many small businesses are fighting to stay afloat.
"We're selling through Instagram and online, so business hasn't come to a total screeching halt, but it's pretty close," Kannyn January, the owner of Ambiance on Higuera Street, said.
Since the pandemic began, sales at Ambiance have slumped to 20 percent of normal, forcing January to make cuts to staffing.
"I did have to let a lot of people go," January said, noting she had scaled back her staff from 27 to eight due to the coronavirus.
January has been frustrated with what she calls a lack of action from local government to help downtown businesses keep the doors open or even stay informed about what action they can take to protect their business.
But January recently received a potential sign of hope in the form of a letter, approving her request for the federal paycheck protection program.
"I feel like I'm one of the lucky few," January said.
According to the Chamber of Commerce survey, Ambiance is one of 46 San Luis Obispo businesses to receive a positive response from the government.
"This will help supplement them, keep their employees going, keep the lights on, to hopefully get through our phased reopening," Dantona said.
But across the street from Ambiance, the owner of Basalt Interiors tells a different story.
"I got a call on the first day they were making those calls and they were processing over 200,000 applications," Basalt Owner Cherisse Sweeney said.
Sweeney's application was processed but, as of Friday, her PPP loan has not been approved.
"I needed it to pay vendors for product delivered, I needed to pay payroll, and rents and everything due around the first of the month," Sweeney said.
January may be one of the lucky recipients of this first round of loans, but she said the pressure to spend her check is high.
"You have eight weeks to use that PPP loan so the clock is ticking from the moment you get it," January said.
In order to have the loan forgiven, 75 percent of the funds must be spent on payroll and rent.
The PPP fact sheet released by the White House states: "You will owe money when your loan is due if you use the loan amount for anything other than payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities."
January said she would owe the government $12,000 per month if it is not forgiven, which is why she has been hesitant to use the money, waiting until the guidelines for loan forgiveness were totally clear.
Business owners like Sweeney are hopeful the government will either approve her loan or re-open the economy.
"I want to be safe and smart about how we move forward but at the same time, as a business owner, we're hanging on by a thread," Sweeney said.
Dantona is hopeful that Sweeney and the other local business owners denied on the first round of loan applications will receive a positive response in this second cycle of loans.
"Now (the government) should be moving to the front of the line and hopefully, from lessons learned by the federal government, there will be a better process for getting money to those small businesses who need it," Dantona said.
In the meantime, January hopes San Luis Obispo leaders will begin to communicate more with local business owners and help them find ways to survive this economic downturn.
The Chamber of Commerce hopes to make this survey more of a weekly poll to keep a pulse on how our downtown is fairing.