Pandemic hurting Little Village businesses

After being closed down for three months last year, Hector Sanchez, co-owner of Sanchez Hardware…

After being closed down for three months last year, Hector Sanchez, co-owner of Sanchez Hardware in Little Village, said he tried applying for a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program but was denied because he didn’t have all the necessary paperwork, like payroll records and business taxes, so he gave up.

“I didn’t understand some of the things on the application and it became too much for me, so I stopped applying for loans or grants,” said Sanchez, who owns the business at 2546 S. Kedzie Ave. with his father. “It’s frustrating when you need help and not know how to go about getting it. There’s a lot of programs out here for small businesses but it requires too much paperwork and specific documents in order to get help.”

Ald. Michael Rodriguez, 22nd, whose ward includes Little Village, said he is aware of the language and technology barriers plaguing many small businesses, and that’s why his office is helping business owners apply for financial assistance.

“Many businesses in Little Village have been hit hard by the pandemic and have tried accessing those stimulus dollars through federal loans but have had difficulty doing so,” Rodriguez said. “My office is helping them apply for those PPP loans and sponsoring webinars that connect them with other professionals. Many of them lack the documents needed to apply for loans and that has hurt them as well.”

Sanchez said sales have fallen 30 percent since last March but predicted his family-owned business would survive.

“My dad owns the building so there’s no issue with rent. And I am not taking a salary until things improve,” he said. “Sometimes I cannot pay my only employee, but thank God he is understanding when it comes to me paying him late.”

Little Village has over 500 businesses, and most are restaurants, but when it comes to access to capital like loans and grants the neighborhood is among those in Chicago that are getting the least, says Ivette Trevino, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce.

The lack of capital “is a bad thing. What leads to this is a lack of trust with the community; lack of technology, language barriers; immigration issues; and taxes,” Trevino said. “So, there’s a need for financial literacy (for business owners) and going back to the fundamentals for establishing a business.”

She said many businesses are cash-only because they have not embraced technology to accept credit cards, and some do not have an online presence. Other business owners have family members with immigration issues, so applying for government assistance scares them.

The chamber has 300 members, and while some businesses have closed because of the pandemic, Trevino said she doubts if there will be a wave of closures.

“We surveyed 438 businesses of which 346 are open and following the city’s guidelines, 36 businesses closed due to COVID,” she said. “But I don’t see a cluster of businesses closing even if the pandemic lingers on for another year. Entrepreneurship is the only way of life for them (small business owners). They are not the kind of people that will easily throw in the towel, close their business and look for a job somewhere else.”

According to census data, Little Village has 72,157 residents, with 83 percent of them Latino; 12 percent Black; and 4 percent white. The median household income is $33,989 compared with $55,198 citywide. 

Another family-owned business in Little Village, Rossi Custom Furniture, is also operating without any financial assistance from loans or grants.

“I didn’t qualify for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan because I don’t have any employees except me and the other owner,” said Jack Rossi, who co-owns the business at 3150 W. 26th St. with his cousin. “Everything I tried to get I did not get it, so I stopped applying.”