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Hope for small businesses struggling to stay open during COVID-19 pandemic

Atlanta's West End and Castleberry Hill - home to generations of African-American-owned small businesses - still have an open door to federal loans.

ATLANTA — With COVID-19 continuing to spread, small businesses that have lined the streets and thrived for generations in Atlanta's West End and Castleberry Hill neighborhoods now face financial ruin and the prospect of shutting down forever.

But there is still time to get financial help to keep the doors open.

For predominantly African-American-owned small businesses in these neighborhoods, the pandemic is dealing a serious blow.

“The situation is very grim,” said George Andrews, director of the Atlanta branch of Unity National Bank.

And Andrews isn't alone. Jason Clifton, President of the West End Merchants Coalition, shares the same view.

“In the Castleberry-West End area, I would estimate we should see fifty percent to sixty percent of small businesses in that area go under,” Clifton predicted.

That is what happened to small business owner Yolanda Owens. She owns Iwi Fresh, a spa and beauty business in Castleberry Hill. She got turned down once for a Small Business Administration loan and was forced to cut her staff by more than half and stop walk-in business. She finally got a small loan but told 11Alive her business - which has been operating for 13 years - is now in jeopardy.

“The main concern was paying our rent and paying our staff, and I was not able to pay my staff," Owens said. "The Payroll Protection Program money we got was not enough."

“We need more, or we are in danger of shutting down,” she said.

It is a story that Andrews and Clifton said they hear day after day. 

But there is encouraging news.

The SBA's Paycheck Protection Program has been extended through Aug. 8, so small business owners can still apply. Along with that - and continuing - the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program has been extended, which will keep offering loans through the end of the year.

And there is strong community support for other solutions.

“We need a bailout, and the bailout should be in the form of grants and in the form of no-interest loans to be paid back over a long period of time,” Andrews said.

Also proposed is a targeted fund aimed directly at small businesses, all with one goal: keep the doors open through the COVID-19 pandemic for small businesses in the West End and Castleberry Hill.

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