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Help for Small Retailers and Restaurants in the Time of COVID

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Help for Small Retailers and Restaurants in the Time of COVID

March 30, 2020

The team at Streetsense is dedicated to assisting our retailers and restaurateurs persevere during this difficult time. Here are three pieces of support and guidance that we hope will be useful.

 

Get Your Online Sales Together as Fast as Possible

For a while, buying, selling and consuming will look different for everyone. Most small businesses do not have an online presence. Let’s face it, it’s logistically difficult (but not impossible) to get your products out to the world via ecommerce, even if your approach is simplified and not quite perfect.

Here are a few simple steps:

+ Create a Facebook page or Instagram account for your store, eatery, or service business.

+ Take an exterior photo of your business. Make it a good one, but don’t make a big deal out of it. Be out quickly and get back home. The image of your storefront is going to be your profile picture.

+ If you are a shop, contact your vendors. See if there are stock photos available for items that you have in stock. Send out an email or a Facebook invitation to “like” or an Instagram request to follow to everyone you know. Encourage all of your friends, families, and acquaintances to forward your notification to everyone they know. Once you have established this network, start posting one featured item per day (or maybe even every few hours) that includes a picture, a one-sentence description, a price, and a method for contacting you (email or cell phone number) to make a purchase. If you can access your store, prepare packages for drop off or pickup. USPS, UPS, and FedEx all have online resources to schedule pickups. You can also request mailing materials from them. If you cannot access your store, ask potential customers if they are willing to wait until May to receive their goods.

+ If you are a restaurant, café, salon, barber, dry cleaner, or other service business, create a website to accept gift cards. Shopify (www.shopify.com) is the easiest website we’ve found to create and use. Now, they are offering a free 90-day trial.

 

Take Advantage of CARES Stimulus Loans, Grants, and Tax Credits

Approximately 92% of retail and restaurant establishments will qualify as a small business (under 500 employees) under the requirements of the CARES stimulus bill. There has been a lot of attention to the payments to individuals, so we won’t address this here. Opportunities for small businesses will take more effort, but may be very worthwhile. If you use an accountant that is working remotely, please engage them in exhausting every tax advantage available to you. Here are a few items that you might want to discuss with your accountant or lender:

Offered through the SBA, these loans are intended to provide up to $200,000 for costs related to closed or limited access to businesses. Loan terms are 30-years with 3.75% interest. Perhaps best of all, loans will be approved without considerable paperwork (decisions based on the applicant’s credit score) and QUICKLY. In fact, as part of this program, you may qualify for a $10,000 advance on your loan to address immediate cash crunches. Contact your nearest eligible SBA lender for details. Click here to find yours at Lender Match

Essentially, you can borrow based on the average of your monthly payroll costs over the past year from the date you make the loan request. If you make your request in May 2020, your average monthly payroll between May 2019 and 2020 becomes your base figure, which you multiply by 250% to determine your maximum loan amount.

Even though this amount is determined by your payroll costs, the loan itself can be used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest payments, and a variety of other items.

The terms for this loan program are very appealing. No collateral is required. Interest rates are guaranteed not to exceed 4% and borrowers may have up to 10 years to repay. There are even stipulations that portions of these loans will be “forgiven” and converted into grants.

  •  Technical Amendments Related to Qualified Improvement Property

OK, first – call your accountant. But basically, if you made interior improvements to your nonresidential property (i.e., store, restaurant, café, services business, etc.) during 2017 or 2018, you weren’t allowed to write off enough of that cost on your taxes. And now you can. You’ll need to refile, but it’s probably worth doing. But once, again, call that accountant.

  • Net Operating Loss Carryback

Also for your accountant’s consideration (but maybe this will help you decide if you need to), if you reported big profits on your taxes during the past five years, you may be able to carryback any big losses to offset previous gains. 

  • Programs Specific to Your State

Look for state-by-state assistance programs in our handy spreadsheet of programs

 

Don’t Panic

If you are permitted to travel to your retail establishment, you may want to get it ready to be unoccupied for several more weeks. Dust, vacuum, and disinfect. Clean your electronics (point-of-sale, keyboard, credit card machine, phone) with alcohol wipes if possible. Whatever you do, don’t spray them with cleaners.

You might consider restaging your storefront, or even clearing it for security purposes. For stores, place sheeting over your inventory to protect it from dust and sunlight. For food service, get perishables to a food bank and document the value of your donations for this year’s taxes.

Your shop, restaurant, or a café is an extension of who you are. At Streetsense, we completely understand that. But don’t lose sight of the fact that your health and well-being must be your first concern. Please be assured that it is ours, and we’ll be here for you when this is all over.

 

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By Heather Arnold, Principal, Research + Analysis