Frustrated Melrose Businesses Want Innovation, More Communication

MELROSE, MA — The economic reality of the coronavirus pandemic grows more grim by the day. For local businesses, often slim profit margins have vanished under a severely decreased customer base, reduced hours and closures.

Even businesses in once-comfortable positions are inching closer to the point where they need revenue to stay afloat. Coronavirus or not, bills keep on coming — most to the tune of several thousand dollars a month just to keep power on and rent paid for traditional brick-and-mortar businesses.

There is no lack of effort or good intention aimed at helping local businesses through such dire times. But elbow grease and well wishes are not paying those bills.

Owners are still searching for answers, preferably more tangible ones than being pointed in the direction of the Small Business Administration’s loan website and having their business hours posted online.

Elected officials are trying to find solutions for an impossible situation. Some local business owners Patch spoke with this week acknowledged that, but added they would like to see a bit more innovation and proactiveness.

That came even after Monday night’s virtual City Council meeting, where state legislators Sen. Jason Lewis and Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian joined Mayor Paul Brodeur to talk about what measures are being taken at the federal, state and city level to help businesses crippled by the coronavirus crisis. They were there at the request of City Councilor Maya Jamaleddine, who asked they shine some light on what struggling business owners can do and expect. (Congresswomen Katherine Clark was unable to attend, but her office sent a letter to the Council.)

What business owners got was nothing new: Federal business loans, establishing databases, identifying needs. Well-intentioned but falling short of things like pressuring banks to work with smaller businesses on facilitating loans or coming up with new ways to stir up business, such as dedicating parking spots for quick pickup.

It’s a tough spot. But as one business owner put it to Patch, the information coming from local government can feel like little more than a recap of Gov. Charlie Baker’s press conferences. The owner hoped for “more value” after Baker established a potential timeline for reopening the state. (Baker this week extended nonessential business closures to May 18.)

Several business owners have told Patch in recent days that while the Chamber of Commerce has very communicative, they hadn’t heard much, if anything, from the city.

There’s no shortage of frustration for business owners, though the ones Patch spoke with were clear-eyed about how much help the city could reasonably offer.

Brodeur on Monday acknowledged the city’s help has its limits. He has asked the state about whether the city can give direct financial support to the businesses — they cannot.

But, as one business owner told Patch, they are tired of being told what cannot happen. It’s time, they said, to go on the offensive and start talking about what can be done.

Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce Lauren Grymek was also invited to talk about the local business response.

Grymek said the Chamber said has been in contact with local businesses, providing resources and information since the beginning — something several business owners confirmed to Patch.

She went to bat for the Chamber, lamenting what she called Jamaleddine’s “inflammatory quotes” in an April 22 Patch article about Jamaleddine’s request for more information. Jamaleddine said some she believed some business owners were finding it “difficult to find answers and resources to support them” and “are struggling and at any time risking foreclosure.”

“The lack of facts in the article as well as the inflammatory quotes could very easily lead readers to believe that the Chamber has not been working on behalf of our members during the last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic and worse that we have turned a deaf ear to those members of the business community who are in dire straits and are in jeopardy of foreclosure,” Grymek said. “While I have no doubt that this economic devastation is impacting our business community, I can state unequivocally that I have not been contacted by any business owner who is facing foreclosure.”

This article originally appeared on the Melrose Patch

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