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Another Springfield Business Closes, How The PPP Didn't Help All Small Businesses

When families, schools or hospitals in Springfield hired McCormick’s Catering and Smokehouse Craft Meats for events, Michele and Gary Seelbach said they got much more than excellent food. 

“(The owners) are respectful to everyone, they have wonderful food,” said Michele. “They even decorate.”

“They were complete caterers in terms of food, beverages, they really took care of everything,” her husband Gary added.

The coronavirus pandemic has hurt many small businesses. Jarred and Sarah McCormick, a Springfield couple who ran the catering business, have closed their doors after a quarter century of business.

Michele and Gary, longtime friends and customers of the McCormicks, said the couple was very generous to the community.

“When they catered if it was left over food, they would offer for us to have it, and if we didn’t want it they would automatically take it to the St. John’s Breadline.”

Even after they paused operations in March, the McCormick’s called the Salvation Army, School District 186, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and a few others to inform them that they had leftover food and a kitchen if anyone needed extra food.

The stay-at-home order caused problems for all kinds of businesses, including caterers. And as limitations on gatherings continue - with no more than 50 people allowed to congregate at once - Sarah McCormick said they still don’t have the opportunity to reopen.

“That's how we made a living everyday,” said Sarah. “We fed large amounts of people, and if those aren't allowed to happen, then basically our occupation has been eliminated from the landscape of this country.”

State and federal governments tried to step in to soften the blow - with programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and other small business grants and loans. But the McCormicks said the help didn’t fit their business’s needs and they felt cut out.

Jarred said they were approved for a PPP loan, but his accountant instructed him to not to take it because it would not be a viable option as long as gatherings were restricted.

The couple applied for a $10,000 emergency disaster grant through the Small Business Administration, but was only awarded $3,000.

And since the business already had existing loans with the SBA, the McCormicks are at risk for losing much more than they imagined.

“It’s the collateral of our home, we spoke to attorneys and our accountant when we went over the PPP loans, and they said you could do bankruptcy but you will lose everything,” said Jarred.

He doesn’t think that businesses should be held accountable for closings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He encourages other businesses that are going right to bankruptcy to take a stand, and negotiate with their banks and lenders. Jarred also predicts more businesses closing in the future if the virus resurges and the rules of the loan programs, banks and lenders do not change.

“Once all this money dries up and the pandemic comes back, and it seems like it’s coming back, that there’s going to be a lot of us faced with homelessness,” he said.

On the other hand, Sarah is hoping the next round of federal loans will contain different rules so businesses like theirs won’t be left out. She hopes the focus can shift to the businesses that can’t go on, rather than the ones that have already received PPP loans.

She also wants to address lawmakers about bankruptcy laws.

“They do not apply to the COVID-19 situation whatsoever. I think lawmakers need to set aside politics and form a coalition and talk to small business owners who are affected, and get their opinions, and work towards change,” she explained.

Congress recently passed a bill that will make it easier for businesses to use PPP loans - giving them six months instead of two to use funds, and reducing the share of funding that must pay employees.

Kevin Lust, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Lincoln Land Community College said Congress, state and local governments have been doing everything they could to help businesses stay afloat.

“I feel like there’s a concerted effort to help, and I know there’s a genuine desire on the part of the legislature, both federal and state, too to make things better as they’re able,” said Lust.

Lust said the PPP has been beneficial for many businesses in the area, but some businesses have unique circumstances. He also said there will be additional businesses that will close their doors due to the pandemic.

He encourages all small businesses to reach out to their local small business development centers and take advantage of the services they offer.

As the McCormicks announced their permanent closure, their business received the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Caterer from the State Journal-Register.

Gary Seelbach, along with many other customers and friends will miss them.

“Small businesses seemed to be left out of this, and they’re one of the wonderful businesses we worked with and utilized on a lot of occasions,” said Gary. “ It’s very unfortunate. and they will be missed.”

Olivia Mitchell is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.