As a small business owner in Baltimore, I’ve willingly thrust a great deal of responsibility onto my everyday life for more than 30 years. I’m responsible for my family (a wife and two kids in college), and the livelihood of my 16-person staff. I also feel a huge obligation to my customers who depend on my company’s products for their businesses and hobbies. Hard work has always helped everything fall into place, and I never minded my varied responsibilities. That is, until now.
The COVID-19 crisis has turned the entire world upside down, so who am I to complain or wallow in my lack of control? But the truth of the matter is that, as a small business owner in Baltimore City, the inability to control the trajectory of my business and the fate of my employees is taking its toll on many aspects of my life (“Maryland coronavirus hospitalizations reach two-week streak of declines as health experts warn lawmakers of potential surge in cases,” June 10).
Knowing that the COVID-19 pandemic was nothing like anything that I’d ever imagined, I listened to every expert in the media and acted in what I thought was the best interest of my staff. I was told to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan as soon as possible so I worked tirelessly to make it happen. I got a PPP loan in the first wave and I was told that I’d be reimbursed for employee wages paid in the eight weeks after the PPP loan disbursement so I didn’t lay off any of my staff. Instead, I paid them to stay home or work just a few hours weekly.
Then, the rules changed. My PPP funds were already dwindling when a 24-week forgiveness period was approved. But it was too late for me to change course. I was hopeful that my business could reopen in early June and I needed to get my staff back and prepare. Now, my staff is back and we’re prepared to open safely. But the city’s leadership has chosen a path that will strike a death blow to many small businesses within the city limits. While other jurisdictions are getting back to business, no one knows when Baltimore retail will be permitted to open. Businesses that have stuck with Baltimore through thick and thin are being punished, perhaps to the point of extinction.
I had hoped to pay my staff with PPP funds while my retail business was open during the last few weeks of June. That would allow me to gain the knowledge needed to create a plan and move forward methodically. Instead, once I’m allowed to finally reopen my business, I’ll be forced to proceed with less information. My decisions will not be as informed and I can only hope that my actions will ensure the longevity of my business while not causing too much pain and sacrifice to my staff — and my own family.
Baltimore small business owners who have worked so hard to do everything right have zero control over their destiny. I have irrational feelings of guilt, but mostly anger toward those who won’t allow my business to reopen and help my staff restart their lives. This helpless feeling is something that I’ve never felt before, and it must be the most uncomfortable feeling known to any business owner. I have no choice but to wait patiently. And when I am allowed, I will move forward with conviction.
Burke Seim, Baltimore
The writer is owner of Service Photo Supply, Inc.
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