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Pending federal relief, businesses get creative to stay open

Posted at 7:07 PM, Dec 28, 2020

Fort Myers, Fla. — Right on time. Local business owners say the President’s long-awaited signature for financial relief comes when they need it most. That support from the government could help them for now, but business owners say they’re getting creative to keep their doors open long-term.

The mouthwatering meals from Chelle's Special Touch in Fort Myers isn't the school lunch most grow up eating. The owner, Michelle Pope also caters school lunches for Collier County private and charter schools. But, that quickly changed in March.

“They immediately closed all contracts. That put me in a situation to even begin with,” she said.

A situation that cost her a good chunk of her business. 90 percent of her services are catering. She’s re-signed some contracts, but isn’t making nearly as much because of virtual learning. But with a big smile and grit, she put her head in the game.

“I wasn’t going to go out without a fight,” she said with a laugh.

Getting creative, she added meal prep packages to the menu. You can get a week’s worth of meals, or even up to a month if that’s what you need.

Doug Scott, Director of Operations at Coconut Falls has gotten creative, too. Most performances are indoors, but he spent Monday setting up for an outside concert for New Year’s Eve, with headliner Ben Allen from The Voice.

Local bands are also planning a benefit concert for Coconut Falls for January 17th.

Scott says special events along with another possible forgivable loan from the federal relief bill, he might have shot at staying afloat.

“The next round of PPP will help us maintain for about eight weeks. If we’re not getting to where people are really coming out, then yes, we do have the threat of having to shut our doors,” he said.

Like Pope, he received a Paycheck Protection Program loan in the Spring, but says that only went so far to pay bills and some employees. Then, he and his business partners had to dip into their savings for the sake of the business.

“We’ve all tapped out. Personal savings are gone for everybody,” he said.

Scott says he’s still skeptical about the next round of funding from the relief package. He says some restaurants he knows didn’t receive funding at all last time. The latest relief bill requires businesses to show at least a 25 percent drop in revenue in this quarter compared to this time last year. Scott says for the year, his business is down by about 70 percent.