COVID-19 relief strategies helping some businesses, not others

  • Local merchants Steve Cortes and Barbara Simmons.
    Local merchants Steve Cortes and Barbara Simmons.

By Mark Millican


Steve Cortes believes the Paycheck Protection Program, a Small Business Administration loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the coronavirus pandemic, isn’t working.

“PPP does not help many of the small businesses downtown,” said Cortes, the owner of WhimZ Boutique in downtown Ellijay. “The only program that could help is the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program, and that ran out of money in March ... Mom and Pop businesses have been abandoned by the government.”

The Washington Post reported on April 15 of the EIDL, “An emergency loan program intended to get money swiftly into the hands of small businesses has all but collapsed under an unprecedented crush of applications and a shortage of funds, overwhelming agency officials and prompting urgent calls for action on Capitol Hill.”

Cortes noted his boutique was closed for business around six weeks.

“We reopened on May 1,” he said. “It’s been a bit of a struggle, but we will stay open.”

Marcello Sandrini, owner of Ellijay Wood Fired Pizza, said paycheck protection is working for him — sorta.

“We applied and were approved, but have not gotten it yet,” he explained. “We are not pursuing it, as takeout (service) has been able to pay our employees their normal wage. If things change, we may try to get it, but for now we are good without. Our real struggle has been getting people to get back to work. We are very safe in that we haven’t opened our dining room, but we still can’t lure workers back or hire new ones. PPP won’t help us if we have no one to pay.”

Barbara Simmons, of Misty Hollow Antiques, reported she was unable to get a PPP loan. 

“Because the employees I have are what I call contract labor, or (IRS Form) 1099 employees,” she said. “If you could not provide (Form) W-2 information on your employees, you did not qualify for that loan, because the 1099 employees were able to file for unemployment.”

Simmons has another business, a ‘C’ corporation business, that was eligible.

“I sell steel for a company out of Alabama on a commission basis,” she related. “My CPA and my banker called me and said, ‘Barbara, you need to apply for the (PPP) under North Georgia Metals.’ I applied and within a week got the money. I never thought about applying for it for myself, I was more concerned about the people that work for me in the store. So I was unable to do anything for them.”

However, Simmons is reopening her store this week on Thursday after last weekend’s “soft” opening. 

“We did extremely well,” she said of Mother’s Day weekend for the store and her employees.


‘Pay It Forward’

Simmons added she has been helped by a new Gilmer Chamber program, “Pay It Forward.”

“Faith, Hope and Charity gave a $2,500 grant to the Gilmer Chamber, and asked the chamber to give 100 small businesses in Gilmer County a $25 check — on the premise that you take that $25 and give a gift certificate to one of your customers,” she said. “I gave a gift certificate to one of the people I knew that comes into the store regularly, on the premise that that person would then come in and buy a $25 gift certificate and ‘pay it forward’ to somebody else. I contact that person and say, ‘You have a $25 gift certificate to Misty Hollow. The only thing that you have to do is purchase a $25 gift certificate for someone else, and it keeps paying forward.’”

Simmons said Pay it Forward helped her sell more than $700 in gift certificates thus far.