ST. CLOUD -- While big-box retailers continue to operate during the Governor's Stay At Home order, many smaller businesses have been forced to shut their doors.

St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce President Teresa Bohnen says it's an issue that she and the statewide Chamber federation have been working on for a long time.

We look at the fact that Target and Costco and Walmart have all been open and yet our smaller mom and pop retail aren't allowed to be open and that just is not a fair playing ground.

Bohnen says she's hoping to get more retail establishments open on May 4th with the Governor's Stay At Home order is set to expire. She says she's also working with the St. Cloud Hospitality Association to help get bars and restaurants ready for when they can re-open to sit down customers.

When they do open that it's clearer not only to them but that the judgment of the inspectors is going to be such that they aren't going to be hit with any surprises.

Of course, we haven't been able to sit down in a bar or restaurant here in Minnesota since March 16th and many of us are anxious to visit our favorite locations. However, will all of our local eateries still be there once the social distancing guidelines are loosened by the Governor?  Bohnen says she is very concerned about the restaurant and bar industry both locally and nationwide.

Some of the numbers of the expectations of how many of those businesses that are going to make it through this is very very scary.  We're talking about people who have spent their whole lives doing something.  Those bars and restaurants make up the fabric of our community.

More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as job cuts escalated across an economy that remains all but shut down, the government said Thursday. Roughly 26 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the five weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors.

When Congress passed the federal CARES Act last month there was money in it designated specifically for small business loans. Bohnen says local business owners had to respond quickly to get in on that funding.

I know of a business in town, a rather large business, that was impacted and has a couple different locations.  They received a check for $2 million a couple weeks after this all hit which is going to keep them in business and keep them here.

Bohnen says there's been some difficulty around an EIDL loan with that money slow in coming to businesses. A new federal stimulus bill is expected to pass the House today totaling $483 billion, with $321 billion to replenish a small-business payroll fund. Bohnen says business owners need to jump on these new dollars as soon as they are available.

My message to businesses is make sure your application is in, make sure you're in line to get this, and if you're not yet get it in today.  These applications sound like they are difficult to fill out, they are not.

Bohnen says she encourages any business owner, chamber member or not, to call her with any questions or concerns related to the coronavirus.

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