Tulum, Molly's Irish Grille and Sports Pub, and A-List Salon Spa have all been aided by the Paycheck Protection Program due to setbacks from the pandemic. Without PPP loans, these businesses may not have survived the pandemic. (Nora Thomson and Jessica Mellon/B&W Staff)

Paycheck Protection Program: how loans from the federal government have kept South Side businesses afloat

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When COVID-19 hit last spring, some small businesses on the South Side were forced to close their doors. Many of these businesses relied on Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from the Small Business Administration to stay afloat as state legislation permitted their reopening. 

Chaz Patrick, owner of Molly’s Irish Grille and Sports Pub, received money from both rounds of PPP loans. Without this assistance, he said Molly’s would have been forced to close its doors forever. 

When Molly’s closed last spring, Patrick said the pub was at its peak financially. 

“All bills were paid, we had some money in the bank and we were coming into our season: St. Patty’s Day, the NCAA Tournament and Lehigh University senior class graduation,” Patrick said. “I was smiling last year. Now, I’m still smiling, just not as wide. We are back at ground zero, where we started this place about 11 to 12 years ago.”

Patrick used the loan money on payroll and bills. During the shut down, he said he used the funds to raise bartenders’ and servers’ salaries since they were no longer receiving tips.

After closing for a month, Molly’s reopened serving takeout only. Patrick said this was difficult because the pub thrives off of in-person interaction. At that point, he was working alongside his cook and bartender and made sure to turn off appliances that weren’t in use to save electricity.

The first loan Patrick received from the PPP has been forgiven and he is continuing to use the second loan to support his business. Molly’s is now open for indoor seating at a limited capacity with a midnight closing time. 

Patrick is hopeful the timing restriction will be lifted so the pub can be open for its busiest hours of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. He is also enthusiastic for the upcoming weeks, which are typically their busiest time of the year.

“We’re trying to continue to do our job here as a restaurant and a fun place for (Lehigh students) to come and hang out at. The future should be bright,” Patrick said. “Everybody stay safe and start getting back out. Wear your mask.”

Walter Diller, owner of Tulum Restaurant, used the money he received from the first round of PPP loans to undo the damage from the first two months of the pandemic, using it to cover payroll and bills. 

Diller said business was slow after reopening, but as people became more comfortable leaving their homes, things started to feel closer to normal.

Tulum completed many takeout orders before the pandemic hit, so when the restaurant reopened as takeout only, Diller said the business was able to get back on its feet fairly quickly with aid from the PPP. 

“I’ve considered us lucky all along during this whole thing,” Diller said. 

Without the PPP loan, he said he would have had to save the business himself, over a longer period of time.

Andrea DeJesus, owner of A-List Salon Spa, received money from the first round of PPP loans as well. She said she used the money to pay her three employees during the shut down and to pay rent and utility bills. 

She worked with someone at her bank to go through the process of applying for the loan and will soon begin applications for loan forgiveness, she said.

“We’re not going to let this stop us from moving forward,” DeJesus said. 

DeJesus had weekly Zoom meetings with her employees to stay in contact and remain productive during the shut down.

“We created videos to try and stay in front of our guests on social media, we contacted our guests, we took all the education that was available to us to advance our skills or learn something new so we would have something to bring back to the table when we reopened,” DeJesus said. 

As soon as the government allowed, A-List Salon opened its doors to old and new customers. DeJesus decided not to apply for the second round of PPP loans as business began picking up again.

Without the loans A-List Salon received, DeJesus said she would have used the savings she had previously set aside to remain in business, but would not have been able to pay her employees during the eight weeks of shut down.

Despite their gratitude for the PPP, the three business owners noted their continued dependence on the South Side community and their excitement to eventually reopen at full capacity once it is safe to do so.

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