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“These businesses are teetering”: While Congress debates, need for relief among Iowa small businesses grows

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Beautiful Mess Boutique

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL)- For small businesses coast to coast, the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating. Nationwide, 25% of small businesses have had to close their doors permanently.

"Food services, movie theaters, events, you name it, have just been totally devastated," National Federation of Independent Businesses Iowa State Director Matt Everson said. " 50% of our members have a 50 to 75% revenue loss from last year."

At Beautiful Mess Boutique in Cedar Falls, owner Lindsay Messerer said her store isn't just surviving. It is thriving.

"It's been definitely an interesting year," she said. "We are just fortunate enough that we already had that great customer base and loyal customers, and we already had established ourselves online."

Messerer credits it to her social media efforts. She uses Facebook live to show off her products to customers. She describes it as a 'zoom sale.'

"People can watch you try on stuff online, and then you describe how it fits," she said. "We just saw the writing on the wall, and we said we really need to engage online and make people feel comfortable and safe."

In the spring, the store went online only. Messerer and her husband did all the work filling orders in the store, but she still kept all of her employees on payroll because of the Payroll Protection Program.

"We had already decided to pay our employees ourselves, and being able to get that that kind of help eased that burden on us," she said.

More than 16,000 other Iowa small businesses also applied for funds from the PPP program in the Spring. According to the latest survey by the NFIB, more than 90% of those businesses have already spent those funds.

Among Iowa small businesses, the survey found one in four business owners say they will have to close up shop if the economy does not get better in the next six months. 22% said they would not be able to last between six and 12 months.

"Hopefully, they get something done. The need is there," Everson said. "These businesses are teetering and some will never reopen."

The help could come in the form of a coronavirus relief bill. Congress worked through the weekend to work on the $900 billion relief package, $330 billion of which could go to small businesses. As of Saturday night, negotiations were still ongoing.

"Our members are looking for another round of PPP," Everson said. "Congress really needs to get their act together a lot of these companies won't make it the next two to three months."

Everson said Iowa is stronger than most other states to recover quickly once this pandemic is behind us. But that won't be until at least the second quarter of next year. The reality is some small businesses won't make it that long without help.

"50% of consumers just aren't going out, they're staying home and not going out to the restaurants, not going out to retail, and not consuming like they usually did pre COVID," Everson said. "Until we can get those folks comfortable to come back into the economy. Six, seven months from now, the economy will not return to its normal production."

Everson said Iowa businesses had gone above and beyond to make customers feel comfortable visiting in-person. Ultimately, businesses won't be able to recover until that happens truly.

Until then, Everson is confident business owners like Messerer will adapt and do what they need to through the challenging times.

"Once the vaccines are available to the public," he said. "It is going to be small businesses that help to recover and sustain any economic growth, moving forward in 2021 and 2022."

Beautiful Mess Boutique was bustling with customers Saturday afternoon. Messerer said the foot traffic has ebbed and flowed over the past nine months, but they haven't skipped a beat. When fewer people shopped in person, she saw more people shopping online.

"They have been watching us on Facebook Live and know that they can do local pickup or curbside," she said. "We are just thrilled to be open again during this Christmas season."

In a year full of challenges for small businesses, Messerer said she is thankful for her customers, who have kept her afloat this holiday season.

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