On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Last month D.C., Maryland and Virginia issued stay-at-home orders and forced all “non-essential businesses” to close due to the coronavirus. Businesses locally and across the country were already hurting, but now with their doors closed how can they pay their bills and their employees? And can they survive this?
According to the “Harvard Business Review,” nearly half of all Americans work for businesses with fewer than 500 employees, which accounts for 43.5% of GDP. So, what is being done to ensure these businesses can survive the pandemic?
The same week most area businesses closed, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included $349 billion for small businesses. But with a slow roll out and some confusion across the board, very few businesses have seen anything. We’ll talk to a few local owners to see how they are faring during these uncertain times and if they’re expecting some aid from the government.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Last month, D.C., Maryland and Virginia issued stay-at-home orders and forced all nonessential businesses to close due to the coronavirus. The economic fallout for local small businesses has been severe. So, how is the business community in the Washington region coping with this new reality and what lies ahead? Are you a local business owner who has had to close your doors, temporarily or permanently? Joining me now is Andrea Vieira, cofounder of D.C.'s The Nail Saloon, which has locations in Logan Circle and Capitol Hill. Andrea, thank you for joining us.
ANDREA VIEIRAThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou made a decision to close your two stores on March 15th, even before stay-at-home orders were issued. How difficult was that decision?
VIEIRAProbably among one of the hardest decisions we've had to make in this process. You know, we are a salon that prides itself on being hyper-clean. And I think, given the busy weekend we had prior to the day we decided to close, we realized we were giving people a really false sense of security in watching what was happening in other countries from Iran to Italy to everywhere else, Spain. We thought we needed to kind of pull the trigger before the city required us to, which was hard to do, especially because we were doing well. But this is kind of a game that is playing at a much bigger stakes field, and it's really not just about the business, right. It's about trying to help our city and our fellow human.
NNAMDIAndrea, how are you, your co-owner and your staff getting by, financially?
VIEIRAIt's a tough time. I mean, we did lay off -- two weeks after we closed our doors, we made the very difficult decision to lay off our entire team, including my business partner and myself, which means nobody is getting a salary. Our team -- we did this, and we were quite transparent about it, we sent a note to our database of 27,000 clients, because we wanted people to know the reality of what was happening.
VIEIRASo, the reason we did it, kind of also so openly, is so that we could direct people to a fund that's been helping clients contribute. We cut off all of our online sales, and we've asked people who were emailing us that they should buy gift certificates to support us. We asked them that if they wanted to support our team, that would be the best way that they could help us right now. So, we opened a GoFundMe.
VIEIRAI know you were talking about GoFundMe accounts earlier. And people have been donating. We've raised about $31,000 that way which, of course, doesn't -- it's not enough to support our whole staff, but it's something. And then they've been able to rely on government resources to kind of keep going.
NNAMDIWhat have you been hearing from the people who have donated to the GoFundMe campaign?
VIEIRAWe've been overwhelmed, really, by the amount of care that people have for our business. I mean, we always thought that we were trying to create a third space where people could kind of hang out outside of work and home. And the support for our team has been just unbelievable. We've cried quite a lot just watching the messages come in. And people want to see us make it out on the other end.
VIEIRAAnd I think for any business owner right now, that's the biggest challenge, you know, is to predict if we are going to have an out of this situation. It's so much bigger than anything any of us has ever experienced, that even though we're getting a lot of love and a lot of support and a lot of good cheer from the people that are our clients, it's really hard to tell if we're going to be okay in the end.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Dr. Felix Yesquen, chiropractor and the owner of Total Performance Chiropractic in Tyson's Corner, with his wife, Dr. Maria Yesquen. Felix Yesquen, thank you for joining us.
FELIX YESQUENThank you, Kojo, for having us.
NNAMDIAs a chiropractor, you and your practice have been deemed essential in Virginia, but has it been business as usual?
YESQUENThere are weeks where it has been as business as usual. And what we've noticed is we fluctuate 10, 20 percent. This week, we're actually fluctuating a little bit over the 20 percent line. We're probably at about 30 percent loss right now. One of the things we're noticing -- well, one of the things that I've noticed is that the -- how the emotions of politics plays in our city and drives our business around here. Because when the governor or the president say something, and it may have some negative connotations, fear sets in, and we get the phone calls.
YESQUENImmediately, the very next morning, the text messages, the emails start rolling in about, hey, can we reschedule, can we cancel, I will wait until I need you. And people are still coming, because people realize that, you know, life still has to go on.
NNAMDIYour work requires you to touch your patients but have you changed the way you practice or interact with your patients?
YESQUENSome things we have changed. When a patient walks in -- I've put out Facebook videos there for our patients. They walk in, they sanitize their hands. They can use sanitizer. They can go into our kitchen and use soap and water. They go in there. We sanitize everything. And, normally, we would always sanitize stuff, but now we're just more hyper vigilant about it, so that people understand that we're taking this seriously, as well. And for the most part we do let patients know that if they request us to wear gloves, we will wear gloves. If the patient wants us to, even any type of face mask, any type of protection that they may want us to use.
NNAMDIHave you started the process of getting a small business loan through the recently-passed stimulus bill?
YESQUENWe have. We started that process. Unfortunately some banks know what's going on, what they're doing. Some banks don't. We hear mixed reviews there from other chiropractors, other healthcare professionals and other just small business people. Some people...
NNAMDIUh-oh. We seem to be getting problems with Dr. Felix Yesquen's phone. Felix Yesquen, are you back?
YESQUENI am there -- I'm here.
NNAMDIThe Washington Post today reported that the small business administration loan program is backlogged and running out of funds. How long can you wait for funds from the SBA? Are you worried Total Performance Chiropractic may have to close?
YESQUENWe are. We are very worried about that. You know, I think we might be able to last probably another month or so, give or take, because, again, healthcare depends on insurance. We do take insurance. We're binded by contracts of insurance companies to still accept the insurance. I mean, there's been debates about just charging cash. But because we're under contract with insurance companies, we're unable to do that. So, yeah, we're hoping -- we're hanging in there. Fairfax County just released a new microloan that we're applying for, as well. So, we'll see what happens.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Hughie Hunt, a lawyer and partner at the Kemet Hunt Law Group in Beltsville, Maryland. Hughie Hunt, thank you for joining us.
HUGHIE HUNTThank you for having me today.
NNAMDIYou are also in an industry that has been deemed essential, the practice of law. How has your law firm been doing throughout this crisis?
HUNTWell, I mean, I think, for many lawyers, it's a mixed bag. For us, obviously, we can't represent people or individuals in court proceedings anymore. And that sets off one line of business. So, we've had to be smarter on, really, our business operations to kind of, I guess as they say, cut out the fat to really try to ride out this, you know, shutdown.
NNAMDIHave you and your firm taken the virtual route, like so many of us have? Have there been Zoom trials?
HUNTWell, you know, it's funny you mention that. We've done Zoom. We've used Google Hangouts, which is essentially Google's version of Zoom. We've become much more of a virtual firm. We did have to lay off one employee. But, you know, we're here trying to use this opportunity just to rethink how we function to make ourselves -- to cut expenses, to allow us to keep going until we can get back to full strength, as they say.
NNAMDIYeah, let's talk a little bit more about that, because this is certainly a trying time for all of us, but especially small businesses. What you were just explaining is that you are essentially taking a positive approach to this, and that you're using your time, in what seems, to me, to be a wise manner. But talk about exactly how you've been thinking and talking with your partner about refocusing your business and how you see your business operating in the future.
HUNTWell, you know, the law profession is always slow to engage in what regular business is doing. So, where -- for instance, in a real estate transaction, there's really never a time where people actually sit down and sign something. They're virtual signatures. And what we've done is try to rethink how we practice law to make it more efficient, so we would need less, you know, individuals to help us.
HUNTSo, what we've done in this time is really just try to make our firm as virtual as possible, i.e., you don't have to come in to meet with us. We can do everything wherever you are, and you can sign every document without ever having to leave your home. So, that's probably been one of the biggest things that we've tried to shift towards during this time period.
NNAMDIAnd do you see that shift likely being a permanent one after this pandemic is over?
HUNTI think it's going to be permanent. I think people will still come in, but I think, for the foreseeable future, you know, if we represent someone who lives in California and they have a matter to be heard here, then I think this time is going to help us deal with that individual in a much more efficient way. And I think people, even in this area, are going to be more likely to say, I don't want to have an in-person meeting. Let's do all of this virtually, and I can just sign the documents virtually, as well. So, I think it's been -- you know, on one hand, it's certainly a daunting task, but it's allowed us to spend a lot of time really rethinking our focus and trying, again, become more efficient.
NNAMDIHughie Hunt is a lawyer and partner at the Kemet Hunt Law Group in Beltsville, Maryland. He joins us, along with Dr. Felix Yesquen, a chiropractor who owns Total Performance Chiropractic in Tyson's Corner with his wife, Dr. Maria Yesquen. Andrea Vieira is the cofounder of D.C.'s The Nail Saloon, which has locations in Logan Circle and Capitol Hill. Here is Elizabeth in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHYes, I'm the owner of the Well. We are a neighborhood wellness center in Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C. Similar to the woman with her nail salon, we decided to close early. It was clear from the information coming out internationally that we were faced with a lot of hard decisions. We provide massage therapy, psychotherapy and wellness classes. So, of course, we had to close all of our services.
ELIZABETHI had to lay off my staff of 13 people. They understood. They actually came to me and said, we think we should close, because they were concerned about their health, as well as the health of our clients. We have a client base of about 2,500 people. We are licensed health professionals, and, unfortunately, we're not deemed essential. We have a lot of people with serious acute and chronic conditions that really see us pretty regularly. So, it's hard.
ELIZABETHMy business is closed indefinitely. And the mayor's order only has us closed until April 25th. She hasn't made a decision about whether to extend it, whereas, in other states, people are closed throughout May, June. And it's really hard to make business decisions and to apply for support if we think -- on paper, at least -- we're supposed to open on April 25th.
NNAMDIHave you so far applied for any kind of support, either from the local government or from the federal Small Business Administration?
ELIZABETHAbsolutely, everything that's available. The state -- well, D.C. isn't a state, but, yeah, local, federal and private foundations, both grants and loans. My bank's been very helpful and very proactive in helping to navigate some of that, but that money's just not available. I mean, you can look on the -- I think the front page of the Times and the Post today that says that those small business, you know, guarantee three days with a $10,000 grant, and some amount of forgivable loans. That money's just not going out.
ELIZABETHA couple of the foundations I applied to said, thank you very much. We were completely overwhelmed and just, you know, we don't have the money to meet the needs. So, I just get the feeling that small businesses like ours -- they define small business as under 500 employees. Well, that's us competing with very large companies. You know, we're mom-and-pop shops. We have, you know, five, 10, 15 employees, max.
NNAMDIExactly right. I do understand the dilemma that you're facing. It was what I was talking with you about, Dr. Felix Yesquen, in terms of what's happening with the Small Business Administration loan program. Can you tell us a little bit more, Dr. Yesquen, have you applied? What have you heard?
YESQUENSo, we've applied, and we're still waiting. We're still waiting. We found out yesterday that Fairfax County has a microloan fund that they're providing. But, again, you have to submit an application, first come, first served -- kind of like your caller, what she just said. I mean, we are a business of two to three people, you know, so some of these SBA loans are going to -- I'm hoping they'll be around for us smaller businesses.
YESQUENYou know, at Fairfax County, this microloan is for businesses of five or less, which I'm happy to see, because hopefully we'll be able to qualify for that. So, we're sitting right there. I mean, we're waiting for insurance companies to mail out checks, just as well. We're in a holding pattern here on both ends.
NNAMDIAndrea Vieira, have you applied for any such loans?
VIEIRAYeah, very much like the woman who owns the Well...
VIEIRA...and Dr. Felix. We've also applied for everything that's available to us, but things have been sort of hard to come by. And I'm not going to start a critique of the (laugh) government, although that can be another show. But, you know, I realize it's a hard thing to roll out on such a massive scale, but the hiccups have not stopped, really, from day one. I'm trying to apply for all of these things, and they've been kind of hard to trickle down, eventually. And so we're still waiting.
NNAMDIHere now is Ben -- and Elizabeth, thank you for calling, and the best of luck to you. Here now is Ben in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENHello, Kojo. Hi. Well, I'm a solo practicing physician, MD physician in Silver Spring. And I have five employees that I had to furlough four of. And we're a 100 percent cash-based clinic, so we, too, are dependent, like the other speakers, on these grants and loans to stay afloat. And that's been a little bit difficult, because the banks are struggling, because they have, of course, overload. And we're waiting. And so, in the meantime, we're sending all the letters to our landlords, to the people that we owe leases to. And it's all been slow. It's scaring my employees and making us nervous, along with a lot of other solo practicing physicians in the area.
NNAMDIThank you for sharing that story with us, Ben. We also heard from someone who said, I'm a small business owner in Virginia. Capital One Bank hasn't helped any small businesses. We aren't able to apply for the protection program. We've been waiting for three weeks, but we haven't received any help. They have not even reached out to us. And that, I guess, is a common refrain that we have been hearing. Ben, thank you very much for your call. Good luck to you. Here, now, is Murphy in Columbia Heights in Washington, D.C. Murphy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MURPHYHi, Kojo. How are you?
MURPHYSo, I run Dojo Comedy. We're an improv and sketch studio over on Georgia Avenue and Parkview. And we teach classes. We put up shows. We do that sort of stuff, and, obviously, we've been shut down since a little bit before, but certainly since Mayor Bowser told all nonessentials to shut down.
NNAMDIAnd so you've essentially been shut down, Murphy?
MURPHYYeah, for live, in-person improv and sketch classes, for shows on weekends, stuff like that. We closed our doors. We're hoping to open up on the other side. And, in the meantime, we're doing stuff online.
NNAMDIHave you applied for any kinds of business loans at all?
MURPHYI'm looking through a few different options right now, trying to figure out what the best route is for a sole proprietor.
NNAMDIYeah, I can understand that. In your case, Andrea Vieira, all of our lives have been disrupted by this public health crisis, but for small business owners, that disruption also extends to your livelihood, like Murphy's, what I imagine must be your passion, as well. Andrea, tell us about the emotional toll of all of this.
VIEIRAI mean, it's really hard, right, because I think anybody who breaks away from a traditional career like my business partners and myself did and, you know, you leave corporate America to try to create something that you love, and to invest so much sweat equity into it and to just kind of sell everything but the kitchen sink to make it happen. You know, we're a self-funded business, and so we don't have any loans, and we were the ones who raised the capital ourselves to open it. And to see it kind of teetering on the brink, really, it's really hard.
VIEIRAI mean, I think part of the journey that we're all on is to just accept the anxiety of the moment and know that not a lot of this is in our control. We're doing the best we can to try to stay afloat, but it does mean also facing the really harsh reality that we might go under, eventually, you know. And it would be heartbreaking. I'm literally getting a text right now from a client who's listening, saying that she misses us and loves us. And that's the impact our business has had on people. But we do have to accept the reality that this is a really strange time. And while we're hopeful, we have to be just kind of cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to come back.
NNAMDIThere's a distinction to be made here, isn't there, Andrea, that on the one hand you can be hopeful. On the other hand, it's really difficult to plan to reopen when you don't know how long this will last.
VIEIRACompletely. I mean, I think if we all had a return-to-normal date of, you know, like September 15th, I think all of us would be finally cleaning out the closets and doing all those home projects that we've all talked about, and knowing that the future was sort of certain. I think part of what this pandemic is doing to all of us is just putting us in such a heightened sense of uncertainty, that it's hard. It's hard to make plans.
VIEIRAAnd, I think, as an entrepreneur where you're at the helm of, you know, the ship and if you see the iceberg, you can swerve. Where, right now, literally like almost about to hit the iceberg, and we're unsure if the boat's going to stop on its own, or if we're going to be able to jump, or if there's enough life jackets for everyone. So, it's a daily struggle of just staying present and just trying to breathe and stay calm because nobody's getting a free lunch on this one. We're all struggling, in very similar ways.
NNAMDIHere's Heather in Alexandria, Virginia. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HEATHERHi. Good afternoon. I just wanted to highlight the generosity of the local businesses in Alexandria, Virginia. I represent ACT for Alexandria, the local community foundation in Alexandria. And, today, we're hosting an online giving day to raise money for the local nonprofits that are supporting our community at this time. And we have more than a dozen local businesses that have signed up to contribute and engage their customers in supporting this event.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that information with us, Heather. Dr. Felix Yesquen, if you end up having to close your business, what will you do?
YESQUENThat's a good question, Kojo. I have no idea. I was joking with my wife, I could drive for Amazon, (laugh) because I know they're hiring. But I love what I do too much. To be honest with you, I love what I do too much. My wife and I are pretty resourceful. Kind of like what Andrea was just saying about the iceberg is coming, we don't know if we're going to turn or go straight. We usually have a plan A, plan B, plan C.
YESQUENAnd, right now, for us, it's just to -- there's no playbook for what's going on, so we really are going in a couple different directions. One is to be more of a specialty type of office. The other one is to probably, for right now, just go as a cash office, and maybe just downsize a little bit more, so that we can keep going.
NNAMDIWell, hang on because this pandemic and all of the worries with it is giving me back pain so I might need you in the future. I'm afraid that's all the time we have right now. Andrea Vieira, Dr. Felix Yesquen, Hughie Hunt, thank you all for joining us and good luck to you. This segment about how local businesses are faring during the pandemic was produced by Kurt Gardinier. And our conversation about the plight of restaurant workers was produced by Lauren Markoe.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, home health aides are on the frontlines of the pandemic, working for low wages and often without protective equipment. How can we provide them with the help they need? Plus, how are people with intellectual and developmental disabilities coping in the time of coronavirus? That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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