Small businesses struggling to stay open hope for federal aid

Posted at 10:42 PM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 23:15:23-04

NORFOLK, Va. - As much of the economy starts to slowly rebuild, some small business owners are still clamoring to survive.

Sunshine Swinson owns a unique juice bar in Norfolk called Fit Bar. She struggled to fight back tears as she spoke about her shop.

“To have something, a booming business, we were thriving,” Swinson said. “We were going into our third location. To have all of that snatched from you, you just don’t know. You don’t know. We’re uncertain. We don’t quite know what direction we want to go in. We love what we do. We love impact we’ve had on the community since 2015.”

This summer, COVID-19 forced Fit Bar’s doors to stay closed at her Portsmouth location, the first location she opened in 2015. Additionally, Swinson had to make the painful decision to put things on hold for a third location in Chesapeake.

Swinson said she’s barley holding on her Norfolk shop inside Military Circle Mall.

“You just don’t know,” she said. “You don’t know. It’s scary. After the pandemic, we barely see people. It’s depressing; it’s sad.”

Swinson is not alone.

Barbara Densley co-owns a gift shop, The Creative Wedge, in the Hilltop West Shopping Center in Virginia Beach.

“Right now, we’re just trying to do everything we possibly can to bring in income and make up some ground,” said Densley. “We have made up ground on the rent.”

The first three months of the pandemic caused Densley to lose 60 to 80% of sales.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan passed by Congress in March as part of the CARES Act was meant to help revive a crumbling economy, but for both small business owners, they say it didn’t do much to provide financial relief.

“We’re not counting on any stimulus or help at this point, because the way things are going, we haven’t heard of anything coming down the pike,” said Densley. “We would like to try to make it on our own and get through the holiday season.”

Swinson said her business received the PPP loan early on when guidelines on how to use it were different.

“We received it in April, and we had to spend within eight weeks,” she said. “We weren’t, in that time, able to open because the state had shut down, so during those time periods, we had to pay it out to our staff 100%. We didn’t take anything as owners. When we came to open, we had no resources to help us.”

Both small business owners are hoping Congress can hammer out another coronavirus stimulus agreement and soon, so they can get some federal aid.

Thursday night, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. The bill passed after a partisan debate by a 214-207 vote without any Republicans in support.

Swinson is hoping a new stimulus package will be different – one that focuses more on the expenses of the businesses rather than payroll.

As discussions on a deal continue, she’s desperately trying to keep Fit Bar afloat.

Related: Norfolk business owner not letting COVID-19 setback define her future

“It would definitely ease the stress to know while we’re going through this, that our team is financially secure, the business has a cushion just in case we have to go longer,” Swinson said. “You don’t know what it’s going to look like day to day.”

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