Life in the Time of Coronavirus

I Own a Small Business. Trying to Get a Government Loan Is Its Own Crisis.

Applying for a payroll protection loan was stressful, confusing, and poorly timed. Then the government ran out of money.

Michelle Legro
GEN
Published in
6 min readApr 17, 2020

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Photo illustration. Photo source: John Michael Kilbane

Life in the Time of the Coronavirus is a GEN series where we are interviewing people across the country who have had their lives upended or are experiencing the stress of the unknown.

Stephanie Valdez, 36, is the co-owner of Community Bookstore and Terrace Books in Brooklyn. The stores have been closed since March 23, but she is continuing to pay her staff to fulfill orders. Valdez began the application for the Paycheck Protection Program loan on Friday, April 3, the first day it was available. The loan would cover her small staff’s payroll for several months. On April 16, the Small Business Administration announced the $349 billion loan program had run out of funds. Valdez has still not received any updates about the status of her loan.

I run two small independent bookstores in New York City. I have been in this business for about 10 years, and we have usually about between 14 and 16 employees on staff. I run the business with a partner, my husband also works in the business, and my business partner’s son also works for the store. It’s a family business.

In the last few years we’ve started doing large-scale public events and this last year we invested heavily in the infrastructure to be able to do that. We have an extra freelance staff member who just works solely on ticketed offsite events, and these events are a big part of our income. We had a very robust calendar for March, April, and May — but once March came along, everything started to change. We weren’t sure whether it was safe to host events anymore.

First, we started to downscale certain parts of the events, such as in-person signings; then we started to implement more procedures around interactions with talent or with the public. As we got into the week of March 10, we canceled all events for the rest of March.

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Michelle Legro
GEN
Writer for

Deputy Editor, GEN. Previously an editor for Topic, Longreads, The New Republic, and Lapham’s Quarterly. gen.medium.com