Business owners in Lake City, Red Wing talk about economic recovery

Friday, Mack talked about the efforts to keep businesses going Friday as U.S. Rep. Angie Craig toured small businesses in Lake City and Red Wing. Craig toured businesses in the two cities to ask business owners what the federal government can do to help further with the recovery and talk about new legislation being worked on in Congress.

“We did about 50 of them,” Mack said, referring to PPP loans. “They average about $16,000. We had hair salons, daycare providers, home cleaners services. I think our largest one was $80,000.”

Small businesses have been hurt the worst during the pandemic, Mack said, with about three-fourths of those 50 businesses he’s helped with federal aid losing 50 percent of their revenue thus far in 2020.

Businesses along the congresswoman’s tour ranged from Treats and Treasures, a small gift shop in Lake City, to Red Wing Shoe Co., the international shoe and apparel manufacturer based in Red Wing. Problems faced by these businesses ranged across the spectrum as well.

For example, at Treats and Treasures owner Jil Garry said her biggest problem has been finding employees during the pandemic.

“One employee took time off in COVID due to health concerns,” Garry said. “She got COVID and has not been able to return to work. Another employee has health problems, so her doctor adviser her that she not work with the public.”

Another potential worker was a retired nurse, but concerns over the pandemic have kept her from taking a job at Garry’s store. Then there are college students, but they are going back to school, she said.

“Short staffing is my main concern,” Garry said.

She told Craig she did not avail herself of PPP, but is considering a local grant program funded through the CARES Act that might repay some of the COVID-19-related costs she’s incurred.

Like all businesses that have had to shut down, Garry said she lost business not just from closing her doors but from the lack of day trippers who come to scenic Lake City for lunch and shopping once her store was reopened. As the regulations regarding store openings have changed, her business has slowly increased.

That’s the experience at Randy’s Restaurant in Red Wing. Long-time restaurateur Joe Dube – he owned Randy’s from 1986 to 2008, but is still active in the business now owned by his daughter and son-in-law – said when the order was given to stay closed he immediately applied for PPP in order to stay open, though business initially dropped in March before slowly rebounding through the summer.

Still, he said, the business is hoping to clear a 3 percent margin this year, which is about half what it normally earns.

“Normally right now, this dining room would be full,” he said. Instead, the business is doing a lot of drive-though and takeout orders.

Craig told him – and other small business owners – Congress is working on a bill to forgive a portion of the PPP loans for small businesses and perhaps, allow businesses that have lost half their revenue or more to take out a second forgivable loan. And, the virus permitting, it is important to keep the economy open and send kids back to school where that is possible.

“My view is we want to keep the economy open; we want to keep kids in school, but that is going to vary by community depending on the spread of the virus,” Craig said. “The more we can suppress the virus, the more we can send kids back to school, the more we can open our economy.”

At Dux, an ice cream and coffee shop in Lake City, owner Gina Lynch told Craig that everything from serving hand-dipped ice cream during a pandemic to finding employees has put her revenue down about 38 percent. Lynch has utilized the PPP funding, but only after making certain she qualified.

“This is exactly who we are trying to help,” Craig said. “If we can save the Main Street businesses, we can stave off a depression.”

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