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Entrepreneurs the Financial Bailouts Don’t Reach
Going into the COVID-19 pandemic, there were more than 1,400 businesses across the 24:1 Community—an area comprised of multiple municipalities within the Normandy schools footprint in North St. Louis County. The local economy relies on businesses like these to stimulate economic development. Many were built with the owners’ savings and personal resources instead of bank loans—which makes it harder for them to get help from the federal bailout programs now.
“These are entrepreneurs who had an idea and put their blood, sweat, tears, and talent into starting these businesses that were up and running,” said Chris Krehmeyer, CEO of Beyond Housing. Then came the stay-at-home orders. Within weeks, business was decimated. “You have no options because no one can come buy your product—and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
There are no easy answers for handling the current situation. As a comprehensive community development organization, Beyond Housing has developed deep, trusting relationships with many of these businesses over the years. And as the owner of two businesses itself—the 24:1 Cinema and 24:1 Café—it knows firsthand the challenges involved in trying to ride out the storm and continue to meet payroll for employees.
The pandemic hit at the worst possible time for Flavia Moore, whose fledgling Cajun seafood restaurant Crawling Crab was a runaway success after opening inside the 24:1 Café in the summer of 2019. She was set to expand her operation and celebrate with a grand re-opening on June 1.
Instead, her restaurant is closed. Because she has four young children at home, she decided against offering curbside pickup—“It’s hard to do social distancing in the kitchen,” she said—and is instead considering selling a line of the restaurant’s signature butters and sauces to generate income. Moore estimates she’s lost $70,000 in revenue since the beginning of March, when she laid off her employees.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that she’s had a bit of a breather for the first time since launching her business from her home kitchen in 2017. “It has given me time to do strategic work inside the company, like hire a restaurant manager,” she said. That will allow her to spend more time at home with her family once the expansion happens—and she’s determined that it will. She’s been in touch with Beyond Housing about financial resource connections to help her weather the closure.
One of Beyond Housing’s initiatives is the 24:1 Small Business Network, which launched last fall and welcomed 38 entrepreneurs to its inaugural event. Since COVID-19 hit, Beyond Housing has shifted from networking to education. It recently co-sponsored a session offering information and answering questions about the Paycheck Protection Program, the CARES Act, and emergency loan programs. Although its April networking event had to be cancelled, business owners can still learn more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because many of the businesses in the 24:1 Community are owned by minority entrepreneurs who don’t have existing lenders, they may face hurdles applying for federal assistance—or may not be eligible at all. Beyond Housing is positioning itself to help. “We’re trying to secure resources to provide the businesses with the financial support they’re going to need,” Krehmeyer said.
For those whose personal and business finances are interwoven, the current crisis is especially stressful because their mortgage or rent payments and other bills may only get paid when they earn business revenue. Beyond Housing’s staff can help with rent and utility assistance and point business owners toward other personal finance resources.
Just a few weeks ago, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for Pagedale Town Center II, the second phase of a project designed to bring retail and other services to the community. Krehmeyer says there are already five or six businesses that are slated to open in the center when it’s complete in early 2021. Beyond Housing is building relationships with them to help them remain viable until the new center opens at the intersection of Page and Ferguson avenues.
“We’re going to continue on,” he promised. “Eleven months seems like a reasonable time to assume things will be a little better.”
At the Crawling Crab, Moore shares his optimism. Her expansion plan calls for hiring 25 new employees as soon as the stay-at-home orders lift. And she can’t wait to satisfy the pent-up demand for her Cajun-style lobster, crab, and shrimp. “I have hundreds of missed calls,” Moore said. “It’s heartbreaking for my customers and for me as well.”