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Chicago small businesses can’t find aid soon enough

The looming threat of financial loss is putting pressure on small-business owners citywide.

Novias Davila in Little Village made over 17,000 masks for first responders, health clinics and to anyone who asked — for free. Now its business is at risk of closing.
Novias Davila in Little Village made over 17,000 masks for first responders, health clinics and to anyone who asked — for free. Now its business is at risk of closing.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Novias Davila in Little Village, like many small businesses citywide, recognizes the importance of closing its doors in hopes of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

The bridal shop has made quinceañera and bridal dresses for 22 years, and the dressmakers were filled with anxiety over the money they would lose when the first Illinois stay-at-home order was issued in March.

But the dressmakers saw an opportunity and transitioned from making dresses to making an essential item Little Village needs: face masks.

Since the stay-at-home order took effect March 21, the dressmakers at 3535 W. 26th St. have made over 17,000 masks for first responders, health clinics and to anyone who asked — all for free.

This act of kindness comes with a cost. With the shop running out of fabric and burning through money to make the masks, it started charging $5 apiece.

It’s now threatening the existence of the shop.

“What we are doing has lost all the magic, but we just couldn’t afford to do it anymore,” said Patty Navarro, manager of Novias Davila. “This is the only way we can try to sustain ourselves during the lockdown.”

The bridal shop has sought assistance from both the federal and local governments, but aid hasn’t come quickly enough.

Novias Davila experienced a moment of relief when it was approved for a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. But as of Friday, five days after receiving approval from Huntington Bank, it still hadn’t received the $8,200 check.

“We applied for more than what we were approved for, and what we got is barely enough to cover us for a month,” Navarro said. “What are we supposed to do next month when we won’t be able to open our doors?”

“We are sitting on pins and needles not sure when we can expect the money,” Navarro said.

Navarro said they have to worry about payroll, utilities and rent. With the stay-at-home order being extended until the end of May, she is unsure if they can continue weathering the storm.

The bridal shop also applied for the separate Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan, which can include a $10,000 “emergency” grant. She hasn’t heard if the shop has been approved.

Navarro believes depending on financial assistance from the federal government isn’t reliable or sustainable.

Novias Davila isn’t alone in its struggles.

Jenise Rodriguez, owner of Sanar Aesthetics in Logan Square, applied for both the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

Rodriguez said she missed out on PPP funding in the first round. The PPP will get another $320 billion under legislation signed Friday by President Donald Trump.

She also doesn’t know where her application stands with the Economic Injury Disaster Loan; she received a partial grant — $1,000 out of the $10,000 maximum.

Chris Costoso, the lead photographer and owner of Impact Images Studio, signed a lease on a second storefront only days before Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued the first stay-at-home order last month. With that order being extended to the end of May, Costoso said he will have to turn in the keys to the new storefront.

Costoso secured a $20,000 loan from the nonprofit lending network Accion, but that’s only half of the $40,000 he needs to cover utilities, payroll and rent for the two storefronts and his personal recurring debt.

“We didn’t make money last month, we didn’t make money this month, and we aren’t going to make money next month. So what is June going to look like?” Costoso said.

“I feel like after three months of nothing, realistically, it might be time for me to hang it up and shut my business down,” Costoso said. “If these orders continue into 2021, I’ll have to ask myself if photography is the career path I want to continue in.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.