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PPP Money Comes To INW Businesses; Here Are Stories Of Two

Courtesy of West Plains Roasters

Paycheck Protection Program money is now trickling down to businesses in the Inland Northwest. The cash allows companies to keep workers on the payroll for a couple of months while they re-establish themselves.

Today, Doug Nadvornick profiles two PPP recipients, one in the Spokane area, one in north Idaho.

When we reached Andy LaBolle, it had already been a long day and he snuck away from the rush to talk.

“Yeah, we were popping. This is actually the busiest day since the day we opened, which is impressive," LaBolle said. "We’re actually considered essential. We just had to go to mobile orders or curbside pickup only.”

His company has used social media to communicate with customers and it has begun to use an app that allows customers to order and pay with their phones.

West Plains Roasters is located on College Avenue in Cheney, not far from the Eastern Washington University campus.

“Usually, students are your steady through the school year, but right now, since most of them have gone home, since the virus has shut down most campus operations, we’ve really been benefiting from a lot of local support," LaBolle said.

West Plains Roasters only been in business a couple of months when the governor announced his “Stay at Home’ order. LaBolle juggled, but didn’t lay off any staff. One employee stopped work for health reasons. Three others are on reduced hours.

When the federal program was announced, he began the application process with someone at Spokane Teachers Credit Union.

“We basically followed up with him, back and forth, over the span of, probably, six hours of me compiling data, sending emails back and forth. Within 48 hours we had everything submitted and we were waiting at the door for the SBA to open up for the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program," he said.

That was a week ago. LaBolle has since learned his company will receive its loan.

“This is a bridge, obviously, because no one knows what’s next, economically," he said. "What is does for us is it allows us to know that while students are gone, which is a heavy part of our business here in Cheney, we’re going to be able to keep our staff and be able to give them more hours.”

LaBolle says the loan buys time for his business to grow. It provides coffee to seven locations in Spokane.

"We’re really trying to navigate what’s next, both for our team  and then what is next for our business? When are going to have a lobby again? What things are we going to keep and what things are we learning from this?" he said. "We’re kind of sailing forward as we learn new things, just figuring out how to better serve our community, especially in the aftermath of whatever this brings.”

LaBolle hopes to be able to add staff soon and looks forward to students returning to Cheney.

Credit Courtesy of Benewah Humane Society

Another small business that has secured a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program is the Hope’s Haven Animal Shelter, operated by the Benewah Humane Society in St. Maries, Idaho. It’s a no-kill shelter that has been closed to the public since the Stay at Home order was imposed by Governor Brad Little. Humane Society Board President Nancy Fitzgerald says the facility is still available appointment-only to people wishing to adopt a pet.

“It’s been really a challenge to make it work, but all the animals are doing well. All of our puppies are gone. We had three litters of puppies," Fitzgerald said.

It still has some adult dogs and cats and a few kittens and they require care even though the facility is closed.

“When the pandemic first hit, the first thing we did was make sure we had enough medications and enough vaccines that we ordered from the companies we order from, enough for two months," Fitzgerald said.

There’s also food for the animals and all of the other expenses. It’s a facility that runs on a tight margin. She says it lives off of private donations and $3,000 a year from Benewah County.

“The only other income that we do have is our thrift store, which is wonderful, but that has been shut down also," she said.

The Humane Society had to lay off its employees. They’re now collecting unemployment, though one person per day is coming in to care for the animals.

The organization has had mixed success in applying for small business and PPP loans. It was shut out during the first round. Two applications later, working with a local bank, Fitzgerald learned last week that the shelter had secured a loan for an as-yet unspecified amount.

“We will not get the full amount that we asked for. I don’t know what it’s going to be. Anything is better than nothing," she said.

It leaves the shelter in a still tenuous position. She hopes it will allow the organization to bring back its shelter employees and the two employees who run the thrift store.

“But we still owe money for medications and vaccinations and, of course, our utilities. This is a hardship on everybody. We’re just keeping our head above water,” she said.

The shelter is also relying on the kindness of donors. And there's the hope that the thrift store will soon be allowed to open to revive its revenue stream.