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GENEVA – A shutdown of Geneva’s Third Street business district because of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a silent spring in its lack of customers and financial fear among business owners.
Michael Anastasio, owner of the now-closed Fiora’s Restaurant, at 317 S. Third St., has organized about 80 downtown merchants – restaurant owners and retailers alike – to share information, communicate and help each other at a time of “a catastrophic loss of revenue.”
“We know the federal, state and local governments are as overwhelmed as we are,” Anastasio said. “And everyone appreciates what the federal, state and local governments are doing. … But from our vantage point, it’s not going to be enough. We have a lot of expenses … what I call ‘pre-COVID-19 levels, based on a strong economy.”
But loans that are becoming available to businesses will allow them to continue paying their bills – but eventually the loans will also have to be paid back, he said.
“We don’t see the economics or sustainability of having to take loans and deferrals of payments and liabilities," Anastasio said. "We appreciate everything that is being done, but our conclusion – our opinion – is that loans and deferrals are not enough.”
'The biggest threat to Geneva'
To illustrate the situation for one small business shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consider that Fiora’s has 35 employees, both full time and part time; a dozen musicians who perform there regularly; vendors for linens, food, ice, spirits, specialty food items and the cleaning crew, all of whom no longer work at or deliver to the restaurant.
The loss cascades as the people in each part of the business are now unable to add to the economy as they were before.
Anastasio described receiving government assistance as an investment in preventing the permanent loss of business and employment.
“It’s going to cost a lot more if things are not done now,” Anastasio said. “Where are the institutions we currently support going to get their revenue if small businesses go under? … We employ a lot of people. We pay a lot of taxes. If that base reduces dramatically, then it’s going to be worse.”
Michael Simon, owner of The Little Traveler, 404 S. Third St., agreed.
“Once we are able to open again, I can’t imagine anybody being able to repay the bills that we are going to need to repay without help from our partners in government – city, county, state and federal,” Simon said.
People don’t realize that businesses have fixed costs that can’t be avoided, Simon said.
“We are continuing to pay bills and it’s costing us every day because we have no income. The longer it goes on, the deeper the hole,” Simon said. “What we are facing right now is the biggest threat to Geneva in my lifetime, in my father’s lifetime, and in my grandfather’s lifetime. We don’t know where any of this is going to end.”
'No one knows when it's going to be over'
State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, said the state is offering a number of programs to assist – but cautioned that even the state’s best is not going to solve everyone’s problems.
“Illinois is not in the best fiscal shape,” Ugaste said. “We do not have a rainy day fund. There is no rainy day fund.
"The state has come out with Small Business Emergency Loan Fund and a Hospitality Emergency Grant Program,” Ugaste said.
Lawmakers are currently working on other programs to help, he said.
The federal government’s recent aid package is going to be a big help, Ugaste said.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security – or the CARES Act – provides economic assistance to families, small businesses and health systems.
In particular is the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Loan Program for businesses with less than 500 employees. It offers a loan to cover payroll for employees, and then the loan will be forgiven, Ugaste said.
In the meantime, the state is trying to make unemployment benefits available as quickly as possible and most likely extending it, Ugaste said.
“No one knows when it’s going to be over,” Ugaste said of the coronavirus pandemic. “But we hope to get back to normal as quickly as possible and see what happens.”
In a news release, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, stated that the CARES Act "provides immediate economic relief for individuals, billions in small business loans and grants and improved unemployment protections."
“Over 2,500 Illinoisans have been diagnosed with coronavirus, 26 of whom have lost their lives," Underwood stated in the release. "Countless more are in need of testing and thousands of our heroic frontline health care providers desperately need personal protective equipment.
A full listing of all the CARES Act provisions and a coronavirus resource guide are available on Underwood's website, underwood.house.gov.