Nicole Thomas and Casey Metzger: Latest relief bill is not enough for small businesses

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Euro Treasures Antiques places "we give up, store closing," signs in downtown Salt Lake City as the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on businesses on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.

As the owners of two Utah small businesses rooted in events, we breathed sighs of relief when Congress last week agreed to a COVID emergency relief bill sending desperately needed help across our country.

But this rescue package, while a welcome next step, falls far short of what’s essential to keeping small businesses like ours afloat, especially as we approach the darkest days of the pandemic with a COVID-19 vaccine still many months away for most Americans.

LatterDayBride has been crafting beautiful experiences for over 20 years, helping Utah’s brides celebrate on their big day wearing a dress from our curated collection of modest wedding dresses. Top Shelf Utah provides professional bartending services to the many events, like the Sundance Film Festival, occurring in Park City.

The wedding and events industries have been undeniably hard hit. And into the new year, our futures are no more certain. Navigating this continued uncertainty requires more than Congress’ survival stopgap measure that will help us only limp into April after missing out on our busiest months of the year.

If we want to ensure that small-business owners in Utah and across the U.S. can keep our doors open and our employees on payroll, we need a long-term recovery agenda that puts us — the backbones of our communities — front and center.

This is not where we and our fellow small-business owners expected to be when this year started. While we were both gearing up our businesses for growth, starting off the year with our strongest Januarys yet, the COVID-19 pandemic brought our industries to screeching halts. We knew the shutdowns and ongoing restrictions were important to the health and safety of all Americans. But for businesses in hard-hit industries like ours, these ongoing restrictions have forced us to make difficult, often heartbreaking decisions just to survive.

We had to pivot. LatterDayBride lost its prom business, but we started a “try before you buy” at-home program and reduced square footage at our retail store. Top Shelf launched The Bartenders Box — an at-home cocktail mixology kit delivery service. We have learned a lot of about resiliency, but that resiliency will not be enough to sustain us indefinitely.

Our stories are hardly unique. We are both part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices community, and a survey last month found that 42% of us have been forced to lay off employees or cut compensation, more than half had to stop paying ourselves and a third dipped into personal savings to keep our businesses operational. It’s even bleaker for Black small-business owners — 61% have forgone paying themselves and 58% report using personal savings to stay open.

The recent COVID relief package will help bridge the gap for small businesses over the coming weeks and months, but that will fall short of the time it will take for Utah and the weddings and events industries to return to business as usual.

While grateful to legislators for agreeing on a relief package, we’re pleading, as small-business owners, for our elected officials to step up with a comprehensive plan for small businesses. We employ nearly half the private-sector workforce, and we need greater access to long-term capital, liability protection and affordable health care and child care for our employees.

We’re proud to be part of what makes Utah a great place to live, work and visit and to have built small businesses that invest in community and our employees. But the future of our small businesses and so many others like ours are at stake. So are the futures of our nation’s cities and towns, our main streets, where small-business owners are at the core of thriving communities.

Please join us and other small-business owners in urging members of Congress to help us stay “open for business.”

Nicole Thomas

Nicole Thomas is the owner of LatterDayBride, Salt Lake City.

Casey Metzger

Casey Metzger is the owner of Top Shelf Utah, Park City.