NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – In the past year, 40,000 small businesses in New Mexico have received $3.2 billion in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to help keep employees on their payroll and businesses afloat.
“It’s been huge, huge. I can honestly say without the PPP loan program we probably would not have been able to survive,” said Myra Ghattas, the owner of Slate Street Cafe, Sixty-Six Acres, and a cafe inside the Albuquerque Museum.
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Ghattas says each restaurant presented its own set of challenges through the waves of different closures and restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I own three restaurants. One of them was closed for six weeks, six and a half weeks, and then we started doing curbside. That was 66 acres. Slate Street Café was closed for nine weeks, then we started doing curbside. My Museum Café in the Albuquerque Museum of History has been closed for over a year. We have still not reopened because it didn’t make sense. They’re doing ticketed entry and we don’t have the traffic there,” said Ghattas.
In late March of 2020, Ghattas says she saw the writing on the wall and, for safety reasons, decided to close her restaurants just a few days before Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered all restaurants and bars in the state to shut down.
“We laid off 79 employees and we closed right before we were mandated to close because the writing was on the wall. We really thought we’d be back open soon,” said Ghattas.
The original three-week closure date, which was April 10, 2020, came and went. Case counts kept climbing and Ghattas knew she’d have to adapt to survive. So, she started doing curbside pickup and, when allowed under the public health order, opened for limited hours.
Ghattas says she would not have been able to re-open or hire back any employees without her PPP loan.
“Our labor far outweighed our revenue and so that wouldn’t have worked. We also had big losses when we closed down, so the PPP covered some of those costs and helped us stay open and maintain some of our employees,” said Ghattas.
Ghattas’ small businesses are just a few of the 40,000 that have received PPP loans from the Small Business Administration over the last year.
“PPP has been the vaccine for small businesses. It really has helped them,” said John Garcia, the District Director for the New Mexico Branch of the Small Business Administration. Garcia says there are 157,000 small businesses in New Mexico, and almost a third of them have been approved for a PPP loan.
“We’ve done a total of 40,000 loan applications in New Mexico since this time last year for a total of about $3.2 billion,” said Garcia. The majority of those loans went to, not surprisingly, businesses in the Accommodation and Food Service Industries.
“The second tier was construction and the third tier was professional and technical services, like the IT industry,” said Garcia. Garcia says the Paycheck Protection Program is working. “It brought a lot of people back to work,” said Garica.
Now, Garcia says more help is on the way. “We now have the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant. That’s a grant. It just opened today and that is for those in most need, you know, the bars and the entertainment area that we all miss and are waiting for,” said Garcia.
On Monday, May 3, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will also open.”That’s a game-changer for many restaurateurs to bring in some more funding for their operation,” said Garcia.
Right now, Garcia says they’re focusing on outreach.
“We’re going to do all that we can to outreach to rural New Mexico and other parts of the state to make sure that the ma and pa shops from Raton down to Deming, New Mexico hear about it and can get in and apply for that,” said Garcia.
The New Mexico SBA is having a public webinar Thursday, April 29 at 1 pm. Experts will answer questions about PPP loans, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
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As restrictions lift, Ghattas has been able to hire back about 40 employees. However, she encountered a new problem.
“We are eager to hire more people and we could probably support upwards of 50 people right now if they were out there. We’ve had to limit our hours of operation due to the shortage in our employee base,” said Ghattas.
Ghattas is hopeful more people will want or need, to start getting back to work soon, and her restaurants can return to what they were pre-pandemic.
“People like dining out and that’s part of our culture. People want to go out and socialize they just want to do it safely, so I think we will come back,” said Ghattas.