This letter was sent to Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today, in support of fiscal relief efforts for small businesses suffering devastating losses with far-reaching implications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
101 SE 74th Ave
Portland, OR 97215
March 23, 2020
Dear Senator Merkley/Wyden,
As an independent bookstore owner in Portland, Ore., I believe the financial plight of small businesses should be your first priority. Small businesses are the drivers of the economy, and if we close down due to government inaction, it will send a ripple effect through the economy that could last for years. We cannot wait weeks for a solution; we need action today.
We urge Congress to immediately put aside partisan differences for the greater good and pass a bill today that will ensure there are small businesses tomorrow.
The financial reality of an industry such as mine, where even a successful store might only generate a 2 percent net profit, means that the impact of a pandemic such as COVID-19 can have a catastrophic economic impact. Shutting my doors temporarily could lead to my business shutting down permanently if the government does not provide a fiscal grant to weather this storm.
This doesn’t just impact me — when small businesses shut down, it impacts the overall economy as well.
Small businesses like mine are the engines of our economy. Bricks-and-mortar independent retailers (not chain retailers) create 57 jobs for every $10 million in sales, according to an analysis by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance of U.S. Census data. If COVID-19 forces the permanent closure of countless retailers, the far-reaching implications will be devastating and long-lasting.
The Great Recession of 2008 provided us with a lesson as to the trickledown effect the closing of one business can have on the local economy. As Time reported in 2009,
“A single lost job becomes infectious, combining with others and spreading through family, neighborhood and community. Widespread cutbacks in spending by families mean lower demand for businesses and lower tax revenues for the government. This belt-tightening means fewer car sales and thus fewer jobs for car-part makers. It means less government spending on infrastructure and other public services, including economic development…. it can mean a permanent drop in earning power and standard of living — a reversal of the American Dream.”
This is no less true today, and what happened during the Great Recession should be our cautionary tale.
Senator Merkley/Wyden, it is crucial that you protect small businesses during this time of crisis. With that in mind, I am asking that you:
- Provide small businesses with grants NOT loans. I urge you to provide financial grants for small businesses that must temporarily close due to social distancing measures and limitations on crowd capacity for recreational and social gatherings. And to ensure that small businesses receive their grants quickly, I ask that these grants be administered by local lenders, in whatever way this is possible. These grants or forgivable loans should cover all staff, including those who were laid off or furloughed any time after February 29.
A small business should be able to use these grants, or forgivable loans, on overhead, such as payroll, occupancy, and frankly, whatever ensures the business weathers this unprecedented crisis.
Importantly, booksellers that are forced to take out an SBA loan in the interim as they wait for Congress to act should be allowed to transition any such loan into a grant or unforgivable loan.
- Allow bookstores to supply their local community in a safe manner that does not threaten the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It is important to understand the role booksellers play in supplying educators at both the K-12 and university level, as well as providing materials to quarantined people. To that end, bookstore owners should be allowed to stay open in some skeletal capacity (e.g., curbside pickup or front door delivery) that does not threaten public health, or the health of staff, to ensure the community has access to important materials.
- Issue rebate checks sooner rather than later. Because of state and federal directives ordering businesses to shut down, people are hurting today. Few workers can wait until July or August to receive rebate checks. I am asking that the federal government begin issuing checks to citizens immediately upon passage of any law that authorizes rebates.
- Guarantee everyone (including the uninsured) have access to COVID-19 diagnostic testing and treatment at no cost to the consumer.
It is of the utmost importance that financial relief includes support for small business retailers.
Thank you for your consideration.
BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.