Saving Small Business

2 comments by Mark Bitterman

The Government's $2.2 trillion CARES act has funded something called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The $349 billion program loans small business like The Meadow 2.5 times our average monthly payroll expenses. The amazing thing is that the loan will be forgiven (meaning it can become a grant) if certain rules are followed. The un-amazing thing is that those rules mean that many small business like The Meadow may have their hands tied when it comes to actually spending the money.  

The PPP funds must be spent primarily on paychecks--otherwise it just amounts to even more debt for an already debt-burned sector of our economy.  So, paychecks. That sounds great, right? Why lay people off and put them (if they're lucky) on unemployment when we can keep them on the roll and keep our economy humming? My job as a business owner is to make sure our shops bring joy to customers, and to give our employees a place to thrive in their roles bringing this to life every day. 

The challenge is that this money is going to be hard to spend. Our people, like the employees of millions of small proximity-based shops, restaurants, hotels, gyms, clinics, etc., work in physical spaces. They are people people. The value they produce derives from human love of being next to other humans. 

Our business, stripped of its specific details, is about the intimacy and connection of serving customers, and the community of working on a street filled with small businesses just like us. So if all this government assistance must be used in ways that cannot achieve this (because we are closed) then by extension it inhibits me from using it responsibly (to get my employees back to work). That sound like a mind-bender, so let me explain more.

My overarching strategy right now is to keep The Meadow in a sort of "deep freeze" so that as social distancing is eased, we can respond by hiring people back on, opening our shops (albeit in a radically modified way), buying products from dozens of artisan makers, and adding our itsy bitsy cog to the gargantuan gears of our economy. The hope is that, with thousands upon millions of other small and large businesses together doing the same thing, we can get the economy rolling again.

In the meantime, I want to stay connected with our customers through communications and e-commerce, reach out to new people, and stir up the pot we are all simmering in so that when all is said and done The Meadow remains a meaningful and joyful place to shop and work. That stuff is all sort of "meta." Social media, newsletters, website development, ad spending, internal systems development, etc.  

Externally, it entails negotiating something fair with landlords and creditors and service providers. It means having capital on hand when the time comes to spend aggressively and creatively as we re-engage in the wonderfully proximate world we know and love.  

There is much that can be done to help the small shops, bars, restaurants, gyms, hotels, and other proximity-based businesses like ours. Insurance companies must recognize the legitimate impact of the business disruption that COVID-19 has wrought. Landlords can re-negotiate terms with us, and in turn banks can re-negotiate mortgages, and in turn congress can mandate some kind of crazy changes to fixed-rate financial instruments like mortgage-backed securities, and so forth and so on up the financial food chain... Etc. etc.

All that is over my head, and my pay grade. The point is, stop shifting the burden to small business, and do your job. The PPP is basically the federal government's attempt to lay the responsibility of a social safety net on the small proximity-based  businesses that can least afford it.

But getting back to the point here: There isn't enough money on God's green earth to pay our way out of this. The full richness, diversity, and raw grunt of the economy is built on the backs of small business. Small proximity-based business brings the boots-on-the-ground perspective. And what's wonderfully and uniquely American about it all is that we bring the collective innovation of millions of minds from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. We have an intimate understanding of the peril we and our employees face in the coronavirus economy and a compassionate, determined attitude about getting through it. So let's acknowledge the role of small proximity-based businesses in helping us all solve for a prosperous future.  

Small business needs time, and along with any funding we can get, we need the flexibility that empowers small business to solve for the best way to participate in our economy. 



  • David Krol

    Hi, Mark, I have thought of you and your business in the past several weeks while suspended in my "isolation tank’ here in retirement in NNJ. I hope you and the family are all healthy where you are. Quite a world we live in now, eh??!! All is well with me and the rest of my family that ranges from my 95-year old mother in CNJ to my new 5-month old grandniece in Boston, plus my brother and sister-in-law, both retired now from the State Department and living in Newport RI. I have been self-isolating for nearly fifty years, so the current quasi-lockdown holds no terrors for me. I wanted to send you a couple of links below. The first is the NY Times obituary for Lisa Koch, who died a few weeks ago at her apartment in NYC. I will miss her very much indeed. She was a terrific friend since she hired me in 1981 at the Met; a wonderful mentor through my early years there; and so much fun to be with until a few weeks ago when Gwen (still in MMA Editorial) and visited her in her apartment where she had a 24/7 live-in caregiver after a couple of falls. The second link is a short talk from a Curatorial Cocktail series of videos launched on YouTube by the Frick Museum. When you watch it I know you will understand why it made me think of you! Gwen and I were supposed to be in Rome right now, but, alas, that had to be cancelled. I hope this note reaches you and that you will email something back in your “free” small business owner’s hours. I wish you the best and trust you have gotten your hands on some of the available PPP largesse. Send a photo of you with your two sons, who must be all grown up by now. Hope to get together with you when (if ever) you are back in NYC for a visit. David.

  • Barbara Esteve

    Well said. Placing an order now. Stay strong, stay focused, stay well.

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