The Fight Small Businesses Should Fight – Soaps and Such In The News

MAY 2, 2020 BILL SPEER Editor/Publisher
There is no question in my mind that running in a parallel path with the COVID-19 pandemic across the country is another pandemic that potentially has equally as devastating consequences, and that is the economic pandemic our country is experiencing now.

In fact, both pandemics not only have threatened life as we have known it in this country, but both have had a devastating impact on the rest of the world, as well.

Nowhere has anyone been spared.

The sad reality that we all now see is that life as we knew it in February is probably never going to return. And many businesses that were in operation March 1 may never reopen.

Kelly Bruning is the owner of Soaps and Such in downtown Alpena. Bruning has worked hard over the years to convert a passion of hers into a very successful and thriving business. It is one of the “must visit” stops for my granddaughters during their extended stay in Alpena each summer. Indeed, she has a very loyal following.

Bruning’s business, like all of ours, was adversely impacted when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the “stay-at-home” orders several weeks ago. And, like a lot of small business owners, when the U.S. Congress approved emergency loans for small businesses impacted by COVID-19, she immediately went to work to try and secure one.

Unfortunately, her story is one of frustration and disappointment. I share it below, as I believe we all need to understand the way this pandemic is impacting us. The correspondence originally began as a letter to U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, but also was forwarded to U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow.

Bruning began by telling the legislators that, on the same day details for the Paycheck Protection Program were released, she had the application filled out.

“Here is my experience,” she said:

“April 3 — Called my credit union where I am a member — ‘We aren’t participating….we don’t have an SBA processor.’

“April 3 — My application all set. Called AWAKON Bank in Gaylord MI, left message. On April 4 received a return call from Awakon — ‘We are only processing our own members.’

“April 5 — Made initial inquiry via computer with PNC Online Site — have not heard back at all after putting in basic info.

“April 7 — Called my bank again, brainstormed, she told me that another local bank Huron National or Chemical Bank.

“April 7 — Call Huron National Bank, Rogers City, they were not participating but considering at the time … recommended Chemical Bank.

“April 8 — Submitted the Application via Computer to Chemical Bank. Note I am not a member of Chemical Bank.

“April 8 — Received a received email from Chemical Bank.

“April 11– Received email from Chemical Bank loan is in process with the steps annotated and also email included this phrase: ‘Rest assured, we will process all loan applications as quickly as possible. If you are not an existing Chemical Bank customer, we expect the process may take somewhat longer as we work through our required customer due diligence reviews.’”

Bruning said by this point she was disillusioned and frustrated. That was round one of the PPP funding. She has since reapplied for the second round of funding and today knows her grant is in the verification process at the bank. From there, it would then need to be approved by the Small Business Administration, a final documentation phase, and then loan funding phase.

“I feel that small businesses like mine are discriminated against. I worked hard to start the business so that I would not have to get a loan from The Small Business Administration and used my own personal funds to grow the business for eight years. At year seven, my capital layout was paid, and I was finally drawing a nominal paycheck after seven years of unpaid entrepreneurialism ($1,000 a month) and have three part-time employees.

“Now that I need an SBA backed loan with forgiveness aspects to it so that I can pay employees, I can’t get it. Small business makes downtowns special and brings in tourism. We take pride in being different, unique, offering our special wares that we’ve fallen in love with.”

And it’s not just the PPP program that left her frustrated. The same is true for a small business fund she applied for but couldn’t get through because the application site kept crashing on the internet.

Because Bruning’s employees have lives of their own, she has proceeded to keep paying them by dipping into the reserve funds of the business, despite not knowing whether she ever will see the PPP funds.

“In a nutshell, I’m paying my employees because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Despite being disillusioned, Bruning has faith that her customers will keep her afloat.

“I have kept my customers informed about the PPP frustrations since I think it’s important that they know small business America DID NOT see any funds,” she said. “In the end … I’m betting my customers will come through with repeat purchases online than the government granting any PPP loans.”

Bruning’s reality is a sobering reminder of the economic pandemic that has crippled many a small business owner like herself.

Bruning is a fighter though and will keep swinging.

If I’m picking a winner in this battle, I am betting on Bruning every time.

Hers is the attitude all small business owners must have right now.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.

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