Forgivable loans to help Columbia businesses in need

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COLUMBIA - The City of Columbia Housing Programs Division opened the application for its recovery loan program Tuesday.

The forgivable loan will aid small local businesses with five or fewer employees that need help funding unexpected costs brought by COVID-19.

Cafe Poland is one of the businesses hoping to benefit from the loan after suffering from fewer sales during the pandemic.

Cafe Poland Manager Robert Burlinski said they've seen around 30 percent of the normal amount of sales.

“The weekends are somewhat good. but during regular days there is not much sales, there’s no more people.” 

The loan’s funding will be granted as part of the CARES Act. The city hopes the loan will help businesses withstand the negative effects brought by safety adjustments.

Columbia Housing Programs Manager Randy Cole said loans would help local businesses all around. 

“The goal would be to help our current locally-owned businesses stay open and operable and help keep employees on staff, but also help them invest in making their business more resilient to the pandemic and help them be stronger moving forward," Cole said.

Some businesses would use the loan to provide more space for future customers in hopes of promoting social distancing.

“We decided to install the awnings over the window and over the two small tables we have here and it's still not enough space for people to safely eat even outside because the tables are too close to each other,” Burlinski said. “So, we need to do an excavation and just a regular complete patio for the customers. Those [adjustments] are going to add up to about 15 to $16,000, so the loan from the city for $5,000 it's a considerably good amount of money we can use.”

Any type of business located in Columbia that meets the loan’s requirements will be able to apply.

“A variety of businesses in town are served. Everything from personal care businesses like hair salons, nail salons [and] cleaning companies,” Cole said. “We’ve also seen a couple restaurants and a window cleaning company. It’s a lot of different businesses.”

The city hopes to be able to provide more help in the future due to the limited amount of spots available.

“We have enough funds for up to 35 [local businesses] for now. We do anticipate additional funding allocations moving forward, but that’s on the broad level, and there are a lot of other priorities that we need to think about as a community as we go forward,” Cole said. “So there could be potential additional funds in the future.”