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Former Ellicott City toy store owner testifies before Senate committee in support of disaster relief programs

Jason Barnes stocks merchandise at his store All Time Toys in Eldersburg in 2018. He moved his shop to Carroll County in 2018 after his shop was flooded two times in two years in Ellicott City.
Jason Barnes stocks merchandise at his store All Time Toys in Eldersburg in 2018. He moved his shop to Carroll County in 2018 after his shop was flooded two times in two years in Ellicott City. (Baltimore Sun Media Group file)

On July 1, 2016, Jason Barnes became a small-business owner in Ellicott City.

He spent every dime he had and then some to buy All Time Toys, a toy shop on Main Street, from its owner.

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Twenty-nine days later, the shop was washed out by the deadly July 30, 2016, flood. Barnes rebuilt the shop and reopened in six months.

When the next flood hit nearly two years later in May 2018, Barnes decided to move the store to Eldersburg, which was closer to his Westminster home. All Time Toys, which opened in Eldersburg in October and sells toys and collector items from the 1970s to modern day, had been on Ellicott City’s Main Street since 2006.

Barnes said it was “definitely upsetting” to leave Main Street after connecting with many of the other local businesses and residents.

“I miss [that] town, I love that town,” Barnes said of Ellicott City.

Barnes testified in front of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Wednesday afternoon, where he shared his story and his experiences with the Maryland Small Business Development Center, which helped get his business “back up and running,” he said.

The center is part of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which provides assistance to small businesses and entrepreneurs, including financial support and free counseling.

Barnes was invited to the hearing by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, who is seeking improvements to the SBA’s various disaster programs.

Cardin stressed during a Wednesday hearing that the administration's process of providing low-interest loans to homeowners and to small businesses in the wake of a natural disaster needs to be expedited. The administration provides direct loans to small businesses, property owners and residential property owners in “about three weeks on average” after a disaster occurs, Cardin said.

“Well, quite frankly, for some businesses three weeks is too long,” Cardin said in his opening statement. “They need the money immediately in order to keep their doors open.”

The loans provide financial support for small businesses as they work to reopen their doors and it helps families repair damages and replace personal property, according to a news release from Cardin’s office.

For the Ellicott City floods, the SBA set up a Disaster Loan Outreach Center to provide information about the loans.

Cardin, who was on the ground for the two recent Ellicott City floods, said in an interview it was “inspirational” after the 2018 flood “to recognize how strong that community is and how determined they are to keep Historic Ellicott City Main Street as a viable main street in America.”

Cardin also wants to provide services for small-business owners so they can be prepared for disasters.

Barnes, who has received SBA loans but not disaster relief ones, was glad to have testified about the Maryland Small Business Development Center.

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He wants to “make sure this program stays up and running because a lot of times they [the Senate committee] hear from the top but not how it personally affects the people in my situation and what a resource it truly is.”

Cardin said in an interview, “Jason Barnes being there [at the hearing] was powerful, I mean powerful.”

Cardin stressed how the Small Business Development Center was able to help Barnes’ business survive by giving support to All Time Toys.

“He put a face on the fact that if that assistance was not there, he would have been out of business,” Cardin said.

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