Government loans keep some Will County small businesses going for now

'We'd like to be able to stand on our own two feet at some point'

As large parts of the economy shut down to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, area small businesses turned to government loans for help.

Tim Berner and Jackie Clisham were approved for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program for their restaurants. They own the Morris Chop Shop and the Big Fish Grille in Wilmington.

The PPP authorized billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees through the public health crisis during which non-essential businesses are closed.

“That was a critical element,” Clisham said. “Without the PPP, I know we wouldn’t be able to keep going.”

Berner and Clisham said while they don’t have enough to pay their entire workforce of about 40 employees, the loan will still help them remain open for a couple of months. They said they’ve been using minimal staffing to fulfill carryout orders at the Chop Shop.

Marie Knorr, who co-owns Industry Tap House and Sidelines Bar in Joliet, said getting her PPP loans was easy, and she was able to submit the applications quickly.

The PPP loans will be forgiven as long as the businesses use them to cover costs such as payroll, mortgage, rent and utilities for eight weeks and they maintain their employee and compensation levels. For a loan to be forgiven, three-fourths of it has to be used for payroll, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Knorr conceded making the numbers work was made more complicated with increased unemployment benefits, so she’s hoping she can meet the staffing requirements to have her loan forgiven.

“Our staff went and collected unemployment and they’re making more on unemployment than they made when they were working for us,” Knorr said.

Clisham said she’s experiencing a similarly “tricky” situation.

She said they’ve tried to come up with creative ways to keep their employees working while the Chop Shop runs on minimal staffing. They’ve enlisted some workers to do other types of jobs for the restaurants, such as interior design and marketing.

Congress is expected to approve an infusion of cash for more loans this week.

Michael Paone, vice president of the Joliet Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said he’s heard from businesses who are still waiting for some relief. He’s hopeful the federal and state governments will continue to look for ways to cushion the economic blow for small businesses, especially if the new money also gets depleted.

“Is there enough new money to meet the demands?” Paone asked. “I think we’ll find out really quick how much demand is really out there.”

While the loans keep businesses stable for now, the owners still worry about the long term. They wonder when it will be safe to open up again, even as Gov. JB Pritzker's announced Thursday he would extend his shelter-in-place order for Illinois.

“We could work in this state as long as our payroll was being covered,” Clisham said. “We’d like to be able to stand on our own two feet at some point.”

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.