Twelve weeks after nearly all businesses were forced to either shut down or severely limit their functions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic springing from Westchester County, many local businesses are still struggling to reopen, as other remain shuttered.
While federal initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other small business loan offerings were made available, navigating the application process was not exactly an easy task. Luckily, financial juggernaut JP Morgan Chase stepped up to help its small business clients get enough federal funding to keep afloat and keep their employees paid.
Through just the first two rounds of federal funding, Chase was able to secure more than $6.9 billion for 50,800 New York small businesses, with an average loan size of $136,000. Three Westchester entrepreneurs — Rita Bertino, Owner and Director of Camp Nabby in Mohegan Lake; Alberta Jarane, Owner of Mint Premium Foods and Pik Nik BBQ in Tarrytown; and Leonard Russ, Principal Partner & Administrator of New Rochelle’s own Bayberry Care Center — were kind enough to go into detail on how their businesses were helped through the process.
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How was your business initially affected by the COVID-19 crisis?
Rita Bertino: We operate a seasonal summer camp and depend on marketing outreach — local events and tours throughout the spring — to generate interest. With the outbreak of the virus, all of our activity and registrations came to a halt. The majority of our registration comes in February through May and includes deposits and enrollment fees.
Alberta Jarane: In the days and weeks leading up to Governor Cuomo’s closure of in-restaurant dining, we, like most restaurants, were enjoying an early uptick in business as a result of the warm winter and the early arrival of spring. We had been hearing about the COVID-19 virus since January from the press and from family on the West Coast. Each week seemed to bring worse news but even then, we could not have anticipated the rapid impact the virus would have on our way of life and our businesses.
By March 13 (a Friday), we were monitoring virus news on a daily basis for about a week so we knew we would be affected. We just didn’t know how much. When the news came on March 16th that restaurants could remain open only for takeout service, we made the difficult decision to shut down entirely.
Our employees from both restaurants were furloughed as we hoped we wouldn’t be closed for long and when we would reopen, we would do so with most — if not all — of our existing employees. Our thinking was we didn’t want our employees exposed to the virus any more than our customers and the best way we could accomplish that would be to close down until more factual information was known.
Leonard Russ: Unfortunately, Bayberry was among the first facilities in the New York region to be affected by the COVID-19 virus. One of our nearby hospitals discharged a patient to us who was already symptomatic but who the hospital failed to test for the virus.
As the symptoms worsened, we sent the patient back to the discharging hospital, where a COVID-19 test was belatedly administered. Sadly, in that brief time here, a cohort of residents and staff were infected with the virus before we were aware it had been introduced by an undiagnosed hospital patient. Within hours of our discovery, all visitation to the facility was suspended indefinitely. All residents were relegated to their rooms and all congregated meals and activities were cancelled. The handful of infected residents were immediately placed on full infection control precautions, whereby their caregivers have been required to wear N-95 masks, face shields, protective gowns and gloves.
The staff members who tested positive were furloughed for a minimum of two weeks and did not return to work until they re-tested negative and/or were asymptomatic for an additional three days. It is now nearly two months since the initial onset of the virus at Bayberry and the challenge has been monumental. With an ever-depleting supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and with a staff roster diminished by furloughs, our dedicated front-line caregivers have stepped up like never before.
Working ungodly long hours and extra shifts, they selflessly and tirelessly have nursed almost all our COVID positive residents back to health. The overwhelming majority have fully recovered, a fact that is rarely disseminated by public officials and major media outlets.
The hurdles we have overcome to achieve such successful outcomes have been extraordinary. Although morale remains astonishingly high, the facility has been left in dire financial straits.
Did you know right away you wanted to apply for a federal PPP loan when the program was announced?
RB: Yes, we were sure we would need help to sustain us until we could be sure we could open for the summer. We have ongoing monthly expenses (full-time payroll, insurance, registration software, website hosting, etc.) and without our early enrollment and registration fees, we would have a difficult time. With no business coming in during the NY State on PAUSE, we knew we would need help.
We did not lay off our full-time employees and, thankfully, we now have our PPP loan to help us through to the end of June. We’re still hoping to open camp and we’re preparing to move forward until we’re told otherwise by NY State or Westchester County Department of Health.
AJ: It became clear early on that we would remain closed for at least a month, if not longer. When we learned that sheltering-in-place would extend into May, we were already watching daily coverage on what Congress was doing to help the millions of small businesses like ours survive. We knew we had to remain ready to live with no income for at least 3-6 months. Thankfully, we had always prepared for such a contingency. The real questions for us were ‘How quickly could federal, state, and/or local governments respond to this national crisis?’ ‘What exactly would they do to help Main Street?’ and ‘How loud would we have to raise our voices to be heard by “the powers-that-be?”’
LR: We immediately knew that once the Paycheck Protection Program was announced, Bayberry would need to apply for the loan to carry us through this crisis. Unlike other types of businesses hurt by the economic shutdown, we are on the front lines caring for infected patients in real time.
Although we have received some additional funds as a health care provider from the federal stimulus packages, the allocation to skilled nursing facilities has been woefully inadequate to sustain operations amid a vast increase in expenses and a vast decrease in revenue due to our unprecedented vacancy rate. The SBA loan we received through JPMorgan Chase is the essential lifeline we need to survive and maintain our ability to deliver the high-quality care and sustain the five-star national ranking we have long been known for.
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How did Chase help you with applying for a PPP loan, work with you through the process, and/or help you secure funding for your employees?
RB: Our business relationship with JPMorgan Chase dates back almost 30 years. We currently have a business banker, Kathleen Doyle, who knows us, our camp, and how our business operates. She was in touch with us immediately and helped us navigate the first few days and furlough, and our bank loans for the first 3 months.
There were some Sunday night emails with Kathleen that went above and beyond her job description and we are so appreciative of her support and dedication. With her help and the help of our accounting firm, Wagner & Zwerman, we had lots of personal, hands-on resources as we started to learn more about the PPP and Cares Act. Our accountants, Andrew Wagner and Kelly Schmidt held several informative webinars with updates on the government loans and the process. They included an Excel worksheet with formulas built in to assist us in recording our PPP loan expenses and to insure we are ready to apply for forgiveness and meet all of the requirements.
This process at times seemed overwhelming; there was so much information pouring out and a rush to get applications into the system quickly, But, both Kathleen and Kelly responded to our emails immediately and helped us every step of the way. Now we just need to focus on opening camp for the summer and getting our campers outdoors again!
AJ: Rent payments, payroll, utilities, tax payments, health insurance premiums, credit card bills, and more would need to be evaluated. I made a direct call to our banker, Akim Jones (VP, Business Relationship Manager, Business Banking) to talk about scenarios and opportunities. We knew that during past economic downturns, it always seemed like big companies got bailed out while small businesses like ours had to fend for themselves. We were prepared to speak up early and often to try to get the kind of support from the bank usually reserved for the big customers.
In that first call, we asked questions about our mortgage, our credit cards, and other opportunities for support. It was then that Akim first introduced the idea of the EIDL and PPP programs through the Small Business Association. Chase had been so accommodating on providing relief for our existing mortgage and credit cards that it seemed incredibly possible that we might even qualify for either the EIDL or the PPP programs.
Throughout the application process, we received numerous emails from Chase telling us about what Congress was doing, what we needed to do to apply, and where we stood in the process. On a Saturday night, we filled out PPP applications for each restaurant … along with millions of other small businesses. We sent messages to Akim asking for clarity and transparency about the process. He answered our calls and talked us off the ledge. By Friday, May 1, both restaurant PPP applications had been approved and funds had been automatically deposited into our accounts.
Ultimately, Mint and Pik Nik BBQ have choices today that just five days ago were not available to us. The risks are incredibly high as we fight, like all small businesses across our nation, to keep our businesses alive; our doors open. Luckily, we had the support of Akim Jones and his team at JPMorgan Chase, something we thought we could never say. Now it’s up to us to keep the fight alive.
LR: Chase and the bank’s client relationship managers have been indispensable in assisting us with the application process every step of the way. We were disappointed that our first application did not reach the point of consideration due to the rapid depletion of the funds earmarked for the program, but our colleagues at JPMorgan Chase worked unceasingly to ensure that our SBA application would be processed and approved in full the second time around. We are truly grateful for the commitment and determination they displayed to get us over the finish line.