Vermont businesses are imploring lawmakers to increase state aid to help them continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state Senate has proposed allocating $20 million in economic relief, but small business owners say that won’t be enough to help them remain open. Grant applicants in December showed a combined loss of $500 billion in business.
“Even though reservations are starting to pick up and people have pent-up desire to travel to Vermont, be on vacation, or anywhere, we don’t have enough money to pay our bills,” said Kim Borsavage, owner of Lang House on Main Street, an 11-room bed and breakfast in Burlington.
“I’m thrilled to still be in business,” Borsavage said. “A year from roughly today, I wasn’t sure what my future was going to be because I just didn’t have the money to carry this business through many months of the pandemic and unknowns.”
She explained her mortgage has been in forbearance since May 2020. This month, she starting to make payments again, but it won’t be easy.
“I ran a report from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021. We were down 85 percent in occupancy and revenue,” said Borsavage.
Like Borsavage, other business owners say they are struggling. Perry Armstrong, owner of Rain or Shine Tents and Events Company, said he had to shut down his business in March 2020. In July, he received federal Paycheck Protection funds, but exhausted the money and had to lay off his entire staff.
“I’m not afraid to share it — I’m sitting on $750,000 of debt,” he said
Armstrong said he has been able provide tents for COVID-19 testing sites and to work with local school districts and colleges. But with the pandemic eliminating social gatherings and events, he’s down $1 million in sales.
“We’re strongly encouraging the legislature to up this number because there’s still a lot of businesses like mine that are suffering,” Armstrong said. “Should our business not get through this – and other people in our sector, those folks out there who are looking to do weddings and events and go to fairs and festivals – without us, that stuff doesn’t happen,” said Armstrong.
George Sales owns and operates Pica Pica Restaurant in St. Johnsbury, Vermont’s only Filipino restaurant. He says businesses like his will take longer to recover. His restaurant was forced to close in April.
“Small-themed restaurants such as Pica Pica will have to wait a little longer for customers to come back,” Sales said. “We’ll have to spend more to attract and recruit and retain workers and, in my case, try to dispel fears brought on by the rise of anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes throughout the country.”
Another struggling business owner, Sas Stuart created an alternative dining experience called “Adventure Dinner” in February 2020. Before having to shut down, Stuart hosted 11 events. Due to the pandemic, she said they were scaled back from her original business model.
“I put off investing in my company and in my staff because I just couldn’t afford to,” she said. “To date, I have not been able to access any funds from the federal or state government for my business just because of when I started.”
Borsavage said she had to shut down her bed and breakfast for more than four months until she could open back up in July.
“Our whole thing is we want you to feel welcome. We want you to feel like this is your home away from home and that you’re completely comfortable and that we’re going to take great care of you,” said Borsavage.
Lang House remains open to the public, and while reservations are starting to pick up, Borsavage says she’s hoping to see more foot traffic in the next few months.
“I’m feeling like there is hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel or however you want to say it. A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” said Borsavage.