Butler County's great daily newspaper

Stimulus: A tale of two small businesses

One has success, other out of luck

April 17, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

Advertisement | Advertise Here
Barry Cummings, owner of Cummings' Candy & Coffee with four locations in Butler County including the shop, above, on Main Street in Butler, was look for the Paycheck Protection Program to help his business and close to 20 employees through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Paycheck Protection Program gave some local businesses hope of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. But others found it an empty promise as a flood of applications drained the program's funding.

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced Thursday morning funding for the federal stimulus package program had been depleted.

“I think that program was intended for businesses like me, and it failed,” said long-time, local small business owner Barry Cummings, owner of Cummings Candy & Coffee.

With four locations in Butler County — including the shop on Main Street in downtown Butler — Cummings said he had all of his necessary documents prepared days ahead of the opening of applications. He contends the completely online application submission process proved troublesome. He said the procedure took six hours, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., of submitting and resubmitting documents.

“My application never even made it to the Small Business Association,” Cummings said.

Cummings said he holds his bank responsible for his application getting bogged down in a backlog. He said he had not heard back from the SBA, and he saw Thursday that the program ran out of money.

“Any help is welcome, but this first-come, first-serve basis, it's archaic,” Cummings said. “It's the luck of the draw. It's not fair. It's not equitable.”

Gail Paserba, CEO of International Quality Consultants in Butler Township, had better luck. She received a confirmation email Thursday morning telling her that funds were on their way.

“I screamed 'Woo-hoo' so loud,” Paserba said. “All-in-all, this felt really good.”

Paserba said she too had some technical problems with the online application, but understood why the application had its glitches.

“It was quick and, therefore, it was chaotic,” Paserba said. “When you're rolling out anything in less than 72 hours, that's to be expected.”

Paserba and Cummings both reached out to the Butler County Chamber of Commerce for support.

Jordan Grady, chamber executive director, said he will still recommend businesses apply for these opportunities. He said some who did not receive anything should stay optimistic that the government will continue to recognize their need.

“I would imagine we're going to have another stimulus package,” Grady said. “The way things are trending, it almost has to happen.”

Grady said since the application process began, he has been supporting the chamber's membership with information and walkthroughs of the process.

“We ask them who they bank with, and we share our personal contact with their bank,” he said. “On top of that — outside of business — (I'm) being there, being a voice on the phone. Words of encouragement, checking in, I've found to be pretty beneficial so far.”

Grady said the goal is to keep people in business and keep people employed in Butler County.

Paserba said the help will definitely go a long way into keeping about 120 employees receiving paychecks at her company. She said the funding will help get her company and its staff through this troubling time.

After she shouted in glee, the next thing she did was forward the bank's message to all of her employees.

“I look at it as not 120 employees but 120 families who are counting on me to make the right decisions,” Paserba said. “So they can pay their bills, so they can feed their families, so they can pay their kid's college tuition. All those things.”

But while one group of families stays fed, another is uncertain about their reserves.

“I have close to 20 employees spread across four stores, and this puts my operations in doubt,” Cummings said.

Nine days after Cummings applied, which was on the first day available, he received word that his application was incomplete. The notice told him he had not uploaded payroll documentation properly. Cummings said he has the screenshot to prove otherwise.

He said when he resubmitted the document to the bank, he was told the mishap wouldn't affect his position in line, but as of Thursday, he'd received no confirmation of receiving the funds or good news like Paserba.

Cummings said he wants to pay his employees and give them as many hours as he can. He said he has bills to pay, and he could have used the loan for the purposes it was meant.

He said in theory this loan would have helped, but he feels that he chose the wrong bank to help him with his application. He said he would suggest to others a smaller bank rather than a big one. He said it might have made a difference.

“I was kind of leaning on this to see the light at the end of the tunnel, now that's in doubt,” Cummings said.

Share this article:
Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger graduated with a degree in journalism in 2015 from Pitt-Johnstown. A business reporter, he also covers Slippery Rock borough, township and school district.