PPP boon: Federal loans help local businesses during pandemic

When COVID-19 hit Texas, A&A Cleaning Services in Pearland, like countless other businesses across the United States, saw a significant drop in revenue.

The cleaning company serves residences and commercial properties from Galveston all the way to Cypress, but the pandemic put a damper on business, owner Mona Chavarria said.

“On our residential end, I can tell you that we certainly had a reduction in cash flow,” she said.

One significant relief during the economic turmoil for Chavarria and millions of other businesses across the nation was the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. Under the program, businesses received forgivable or low-interest loans used primarily to keep workers employed.

The PPP was a “godsend” to businesses in League City, Pearland, Clear Lake and Friendswood, saving a total of 47,904 jobs for over 6,000 businesses in the area, according to SBA data.

Without the program, businesses would have had to let people go or even shut down entirely, local business owners told Community Impact Newspaper.

“It was very, very helpful that we had it,” said Jill Reason, Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre’s executive director.

Time of need

Bay Area Houston Ballet and Theatre, a nonprofit in Dickinson, was wrapping up its 44th season when COVID-19 reached Texas in early March. The pandemic forced the theater to end the season early, Reason said.

“To lose their last performance was devastating,” she said of her students. “It was just really hard to see them lose that.”

Shortly after, in late April, Reason began worrying about paying salaries for herself and the small staff. She applied for the PPP and was approved for a $10,689 forgivable loan, which covered salaries for eight weeks, Reason said.

While Reason said it was disappointing the dancers missed out on final performances, COVID-19 hit at an ideal time; had it reached Texas in October, when the theater employs a far larger staff during the peak of the season, Reason is not sure she would have been able to keep them all, she said.

James Brockway co-owns Brockway Realty in League City with his wife, Penny Brockway. While the housing market has recovered from the pandemic, it took a sharp decline at its onset, he said.

“[COVID-19] took a big dent out of our business,” James Brockway said.

During that drop, James Brockway applied for the PPP and was awarded $35,000. That money covered the Brockways for eight weeks, and it came at the right time, considering the first quarter of 2020 was “awful” for real estate, he said.

“We started getting really nervous. Having that [PPP] was a very psychological boost even though in the whole scheme of running a business it wasn’t a big pile of money,” James Brockway said. “It was a comfort, really.”

About 11 agents work under Brockway Realty, but they are contractors, not employees, so the PPP loan did not cover them, he said.

Manish Maheshwari, the owner of Little Bella Mia Casual Italian Kitchen and Coco Crepes, Waffles & Coffee in League City, agreed the PPP provided him psychological relief and allowed him to pay both the employees and the rent for his restaurants. Other business owners Maheshwari knows survived the economic downturn because of the PPP, he said.

“I think [the PPP] was a very neat idea,” he said. “The money was very helpful.”

Jobs saved

Tim Jeffcoat, the district director of the SBA in Houston, said the PPP has been successful in retaining Houston-area jobs.

One of the requirements for a business upon receiving a PPP loan is to maintain the same level of employment. Maheshwari employs about 15 people, and the PPP allowed him to make it through the worst part of the pandemic without laying anyone off, he said.

“That money helped us to keep all the employees employed,” Maheshwari said.

The PPP was especially helpful for restaurants because the pandemic closed dining rooms for weeks. To this day, restaurants can operate at only 50% capacity indoors.

Chavarria’s cleaning business has a similar story. A&A Cleaning Services employs about 50 full-time workers and 15-20 part-time workers.

“[Without the PPP,] I would have laid people off,” Chavarria said. “At some point we had a residential end of employees that there was no work for them.”

To meet the SBA’s requirement to maintain the same level of employees to receive a loan, A&A Cleaning had to get creative. The business began using ultraviolet light and disinfecting foggers normally used during flu season to clean buildings, which built another branch of business to keep A&A Cleaning afloat and employees working, Chavarria said.

“That [effort] really helped us [in] sustaining ... that PPP requirement by the government,” she said.

Jeffcoat said in late July federal legislators are considering approving another $200 billion in PPP funding on top of the $660 billion that has already been distributed.

“PPP has been awfully important in the whole nation, not just in my district, and it has made a significant difference,” he said. “It’s not enough for many businesses.”

Local business owners said they would apply for another round of the PPP if it became available, especially if loans were forgivable again.

Future outlook

Some local business owners said the PPP gave them the cushion they needed to weather COVID-19 and that things are looking up.

James said there is a pent-up demand for residential real estate and the market is returning to normal, giving him peace of mind.

“I believe that we’re going to continue the boom in the economy and residential sales,” he said. “The fundamentals are still there.”

For Chavarria, the new UV light and fogging cleaning options her business began are growing and generating the customers and clients necessary to continue operations. It helped that about 20 charitable residential customers continued to pay A&A Cleaning despite not getting services for several months, Chavarria said.

However, it still has been difficult to keep afloat, and it is unknown where the business may be in even two months, she said.

“It has been challenging—very challenging,” Chavarria said. “I do think that the future is so unknown.”

Maheshwari’s businesses are down 30% compared to prepandemic times. If things do not improve by next year, he will have to consider whether it is worth it to continue operating, he said.

“It’s a daily struggle,” he said.

The Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre will enter its 45th season right after Labor Day. The theater normally contracts dancers to train and choreograph students throughout the season, but the nonprofit has limited funds, Reason said.

“I’m essentially working for nothing. We just don’t have the money,” Reason said. “We’re good, but it’s tight.”

On Aug. 15, the studio held tryouts for its upcoming season. Over 150 children showed up, had their temperatures taken, wore masks and auditioned, Reason said.

The studio has other precautions in place to keep students safe and minimize the risk of infection, including social distance markings on the dance floor, she said.

“We are not giving up. We are going to do our best to keep our dancers safe,” she said.

Reason said students’ annual performance of “The Nutcracker” generates about $80,000 for the nonprofit annually. With some performance venues closed for the rest of the year, the theater plans to perform the holiday play in its rehearsal studio to limited audiences and likely will not see much revenue, she said.

“But at least we’re doing something and not letting our kids down,” Reason said. “Even if we have to give it away, we’re going to provide the arts for the community. We have to.”
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.


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