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Local businesses uncertain as Inslee announces more aid

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | November 24, 2020 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — When COVID-19 hit, Bruce Russell said Papa’s Casino, Ten Pin Tap House and Ten Pin Inn & Suites were having a record year.

“We were doing the best we’d ever done in 65 years in business,” said Russell, a co-owner of the landmark Moses Lake eatery and brewery. “The February before it hit was unbelievable.”

At the time, Russell said they had around 120 people on the payroll.

And now, 10 months after the pandemic hit — including two months of near total lockdown — he said the business employs “maybe 30 now,” and they have been struggling since the first closures in late March to keep them on the payroll.

“When this first happened, we thought it would last a few weeks,” he said. “But it’s been ten months. How does anyone shut their business down for that long?”

On Nov. 15, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered restaurants and other public venues like gyms, bowling alleys and movie theaters to close until Dec. 14, as well as restricting the size of private gatherings, in order to limit the recent rapid rise in COVID-19 cases across the state.

And then on Friday, Inslee also announced that $135 million in state grants and loans would be available to business owners, renters and the less fortunate, hard-hit by the closures, including $70 million in grants to businesses and another $30 million in recovery loans.

“This is a significant relief effort,” Inslee said during a press conference Friday. “I can’t say it’s going to help everyone, but I can say we are not done yet collaborating with our partners to find more funds.”

However, there are a few details missing as to when or how that aid will be made available.

“Department of Commerce said they would be getting something up on their site this week, hopefully, as for the grants. I do not know any more about that at this time,” wrote Debbie Doran-Martinez, a small business owner and executive director of the Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce, in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald.

Brant Mayo, head of the Grant County Economic Development Council, which administered the last round of grants to small businesses, said that the state is still working out the mechanics of distributing the grants.

“We were on a call Friday with the State and basically, they said stay tuned for further details,” Mayo said.

Russell said the COVID-19-related closures and restrictions have been especially difficult for his family’s business given that it’s not just food service, but hospitality and entertainment reliant on crowds.

“Takeout is not working for us,” he said. “We need bowling, sports and the casino. That’s the business we built.”

Papa’s put up a tent in its parking lot, and he hopes that will keep enough cash coming in to keep the business afloat. But he knows what he’d really like to see help for businesses like his.

“Ideally, another PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) that would cover wages and expenses and allow us to be open,” Russell said. “That would be huge.”

The PPP was created by Congress in April as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and allowed businesses to borrow enough to cover payroll for and bills for up to 24 weeks (the initial period was eight weeks) and have any portion of the loan used for payroll forgiven.

The PPP was one of several programs enacted by Congress this year to help businesses, small and large, weather the initial series of closures and stay-at-home orders issued by many state governors last spring.

But even if the business survives with government aid of some kind, Russell has no idea what kind of business dependent on crowds will look like in a post-pandemic world.

“I don’t know if it will ever come back, the way people feel about this,” he said. “Even if they solve it, what’s people’s reaction going to be?”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.