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News >  Spokane

Local businesses able to rehire employees, sustain operations with PPP loans

Northstar Seafoods owner Phil Lanzone is one of the local businesses that benefit from PPP loans, which allows him to bring back employees and sustain operations. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Northstar Seafoods owner Phil Lanzone is one of the local businesses that benefit from PPP loans, which allows him to bring back employees and sustain operations. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for the Mirabeau Park Hotel, a full-service property with convention space and a restaurant in Spokane Valley.

The hotel’s daily occupancy dropped to about 15% since the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order went into effect. As occupancy dipped, the property was forced to gradually lay off 90 of its 120 employees, several of whom “are like family,” said Lee Cameron, owner of the Mirabeau Park Hotel.

But Cameron will now be able to bring some of the hotel’s employees back with a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.

“We started bringing them back the minute we were awarded the loan,” Cameron said. “We are still going to operate at a loss with the loan, but we are hoping that it will sustain operations.”

More than 30,420 PPP loans totaling close to $7 billion went to Washington state businesses in the initial $349 billion round of funding, a pool that was depleted in fewer than two weeks.

Cameron said it’s imperative that Mirabeau Park Hotel continues to provide lodging for contracted guests, essential medical workers and people needing to shelter in place away from their homes.

The hotel’s restaurant, which is supported by locals and guests, is offering delivery, takeout and room service with social distancing measures in place, he added.

Airway Heights-based Northstar Seafoods, which distributes seafood to restaurants, casinos and hotels, also obtained a PPP loan about two weeks ago to offset the financial impact of COVID-19.

Because the company supplies seafood and poultry to fine-dining restaurants that lack takeout service, it was heavily impacted by coronavirus-related closures and forced to lay off employees, said Phil Lanzone, owner of Northstar Seafoods.

“Our business was down quite a bit. But now that we’ve got the PPP loan, we’ve got 80% of our people back,” Lanzone said.

Lanzone, who reported a slight uptick in sales last week, worked with an accountant to prepare the PPP loan application, which was processed through Chase Bank.

“The process was easy. I submitted the paperwork and, boom, it was done,” he said.

Lanzone declined to disclose the amount of the PPP loan.

Lanzone is looking forward to ramping up operations once the statewide stay-home order is lifted.

“My guys are ready to roll,” he said. “It’s been horrible, but we are hoping for the best and that’s all we can do.”

Auntie’s Bookstore reopened its curbside pickup last week and is fulfilling mail orders after receiving a PPP loan, said owner John Waite.

The bookstore, at the onset of COVID-19, was offering curbside delivery to customers until it closed March 25 and temporarily laid off employees.

Auntie’s Bookstore was partnering with a fulfillment center in Oregon to fulfill its mail orders, which didn’t generate profits but made customers happy, Waite said.

The PPP loan allows the bookstore to shift back to fulfilling mail orders in-house.

“We are a little lucky because we can have the store do mail order and have the staff doing things,” Waite said, adding that some businesses receiving the PPP loan are struggling with finding work for staff because of reduced service or temporary closures.

PPP loans, guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, will be forgiven if the proceeds cover 75% of payroll costs and 25% of mortgage, rent and utility costs for businesses over an 8-week period once funds are approved.

Last week, Congress approved an additional $310 billion round of PPP funding that includes a provision aimed at preventing publicly traded companies from obtaining loans.

The Paycheck Protection Program, intended for small businesses to pay their employees and cover operating expenses during COVID-19, sparked criticism after several publicly traded companies received loans. Companies deemed ineligible for PPP loans under the new guidelines are required to return the funds by May 7.

The SBA reported more than 475,000 loans valued at $52 billion were processed Monday – the first day of second-round funding. More than 5,100 lenders nationally handled the loans, according to the SBA.

Waite, who also owns Merlin’s Comics and Games, is hopeful the comic book store will also be approved for a PPP loan in the second round of funding.

Waite believes that remaining safe during the coronavirus pandemic is a priority, but small businesses and restaurants need to be open to survive.

“We need to open up ASAP, or we aren’t just going to be around,” he said, adding the community can support local businesses by buying gift cards and using mail order or curbside pickup. “A lot of these little places aren’t going to be here if they aren’t going to get some help.”

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