State eases up on business restrictions

State eases up on business restrictions

By: JACKSON WILSON

Enquirer Democrat Reporter

There’s still work to be done as a whole, but the state of Illinois is keeping the ball rolling in terms of permanently re-opening businesses by loosening certain COVID-19 restrictions.

Effective last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker advanced to the next phase of his rebuilding plan and issued certain precautions that allowed bars and restaurants to serve customers in an outdoor setting, certain manufacturers to resume operation with restrictions, personal care facilities to re-open under reservations and families to engage in summer activities.

Macoupin County residents are now eating at bars and restaurants by sitting at outdoor tables spaced a minimum of six feet apart. Employees are wearing face masks, checking their body temperatures before clock-in and washing their hands for 20 seconds every half-hour.

Retail customers have been allowed two different options – half of their normal capacity or five individuals per 1,000 feet of retailer space. Service counter businesses such as dry cleaners, car washes and shoe shops are free to open up as long as they display entrance signs that include precaution notifications of social distancing, facial covering requirements and cleaning procedures.

Salons, spas and tattoo parlors are also eligible to offer service as long as employees and customers wear face masks over their nose and mouth.

Parks and trails have also been opened up. Non-contact sports, camping and fitness training can resume as long as there is minimal contact and physical distancing.

The community of Carlinville has been buzzing since this initiation.

The alley outside of the Uptown Tavern that was rented out by the business and transformed into a dining patio, consisted of packed tables throughout the weekend.

The Panda Express ran out of food on its first day back in business on the square.

Beaver Dam State Park, located south of Carlinville, had already seen multiple families boating, fishing, dining, hiking and visiting its bait shop.

“We can tell that everybody has been so glad having these businesses open back up right now,” said Beaver Dam restaurant owner Donna Struberg-Peck. “The people who visited us were getting sick and tired of having to drive up to a pick-up window to get their food. To be able to eat and enjoy themselves in that outside atmosphere was just so refreshing for them and us as well. Those types of positive comments are what we kept hearing all throughout the weekend. No one complained and everyone was very respectful of the guidelines and safety procedures.”

Although many were hit hard over the two-month lockdown, a lifeline has been in the air for the smaller businesses as well. The Small Business Administration of the federal government has introduced and offered Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were originally forgiveable if all employees remained on payroll for eight weeks and the earnings were used for interest or utilities. Since many states kept stay-at-home orders past that timeline, some business owners ended up on the short end of the stick and were unable able to spend down the entirety of their loans. Therefore, a resolution was needed.

On May 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a PPP flexibility act to reduce restrictions for small businesses during their pursuit of loan forgiveness.

The positive news of this change was that it reduced loan amounts that were required to spend on payroll within a range of 60 to 75 percent. This widened the fund surplus available for other expenses ranging from 25 to 40 percent. An article on forbes.com illustrated that this was an improvement even though the change didn’t fully meet what most small business advocates were seeking.

The bill’s plan additionally offers the following.

The fund usage eight-week window is extended to 24 weeks.

The deadline to rehire workers is pushed back to Dec. 31.

More loan forgiveness leeway is offered for business owners who show they could not rehire workers or reopen due to safety standards.

Recipients have an extended time to repay loans.

Companies that get loan forgiveness are allowed to defer payroll taxes.

“We processed in total about 1,500 loans totaling $130 million,” said Todd Wise, president and CEO of United Community Bank, based in Chatham.

UCB operates Macoupin County branches in Bunker Hill, Carlinville and Gillespie, as well as in Greenfield. In total, it has 44 locations in central Illinois.

Through the PPP, the bank has processed 182 loans for $6.5 million.

The lending institution began taking applications for the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program in early April. Two cycles of funding have been approved. The initial one lasted about two-and-a-half weeks while business still remain eligible for second round of funding.

“Our application volume has slowed down but we do get a few in here and there,” he said. “There is a forgiveness provisions which we’re waiting for guidelines from the SBA. We’re all kind of watching to see what that looks like.”

It’s possible the entire loan can be forgiven, according to Wise.

“As much as 100 percent of the loan could be forgiven, if the business qualifies,” Wise noted. “The portion that does not qualify, the borrower would have up to two years to repay.”

This repayment would come at a 1 percent interest rate, Wise noted.

“We have not started the calculations for (loan) forgiveness yet,” Wise said. “We’d like to get started on it here in the next couple weeks.”

If businesses didn’t take advantage of the PPP loans “there would have been a lot of places not working at all. For many of our clients, this gave them a life line to stay open.”

Wise understands it has been challenging times for many businesses, particularly the restaurant and hotel industries.

“They have been decimated over the past 75 days,” he said.

Gary Graham said that the Carlinville National Bank has assisted hundereds of local businesses with these PPP benefits and that they could provide a major boost to the Macoupin County economy.

“It’s a great program as a whole,” said Graham. “It’s been known to provide quality assistance in covering all of one’s necessary expenses.”

Enquirer~Democrat managing editor Daniel Winningham contributed to this report.