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Cincinnati-area small businesses: We need help, now

Many worry they may not make year's end
WCPO_closed_sign.jpg
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-06 19:30:58-04

It looks like any normal day at Basic Trust Child Care of Campbell County, as children laugh and play in the yard outside the facility.

But things are far from normal for this daycare center during the pandemic summer.

Owners George and Bonny Kees wonder if their 40 years' worth of hard work and love will survive this year.

"It's not just our center, there are centers everywhere like this," Bonny Kees said. "We've already seen some of them close, and there will be more. Things can't continue down this path."

Before COVID-19, the Keeses and their staff would watch up to 300 children each week, but the state of Kentucky now limits them to just 60. But they need even more staff now, to keep their kids safely apart.

"We are paying for more labor hours now, so it's going to be hard to sustain," George Kees said. "Right now we are probably running about a $12,000 a month deficit."

The government's Paycheck Protection Program and state grants have helped. But with that money depleted, they don't know what the future will bring.

"We need help, financially, to sustain us through this, to get us to the other side, if there is another side," Bonny Kees said.

George and Bonny Kees
George and Bonny Kees

Some businesses never received aid

While some small businesses are starting to recover, or holding on like the Keeses', others were hit so hard by the three-month shutdown they may never bounce back.

Back in April, we first visited Tony White, who for 20 years has owned and operated the Ladies and Gents barber shop just behind Camp Washington Chili on Colerain Avenue.

At the time, his shop -- like all barber shops and salons in Ohio -- was shut tight, under orders of Governor Mike DeWine.

"This is hard, this is hard. It really is," he told us at the time, surveying his empty barber chairs.

But his application for federal PPP money was denied, at the same time other businesses in much better shape were getting the loans, even spending the money on sports cars in some cases.

"I don't meet the standards of what they want me to fit into to get these loans," he said.

Tony White.jfif
Tony White, barber

Eric Kearney of the African American Chamber of Commerce explains that many small, black-owned businesses in Cincinnati had trouble getting PPP loans, because they did not have a working relationship with any major bank, which distributed the funds.

"Only about 30% or 34%, somewhere in there, received money," he told WCPO reporters Whitney Miller and Lucy May month.

Now, White's landlord has placed a "for rent" sign in his front window, because White has been unable to pay his rent for four months. He spends his days now cutting hair part time in other shops.

"I've been scraping by and doing whatever I can," he said.

He now is looking for a way to hit the restart button on his career.

"I gotta evolve with this thing, 'cause if not I will be on the curb," he said.

Business owners plead to lawmakers

Small business owners everywhere, like the Keeses and Tony White, are pleading with lawmakers to ease some COVID restrictions and throw them another lifeline.

They would like to see Congress renew the Paycheck Protection Program, and in the case of daycare centers, would like additional state grants.

A report by child care provider Care.com said as many as 40% of daycare centers may close by next year without additional help, or an end to the pandemic.

The Hamilton County Commissioners grant task force, meanwhile, said it will take a look at Tony White's barber shop and see if it may qualify for one of its minority-owned business grants.

Without help, he and so many other small business owners will have to lock their doors forever this coming winter.

"This is my blood, sweat and tears," White said.

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