Some local businesses continue to struggle without federal assistance

Published: May. 4, 2020 at 9:45 PM AKDT
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Last week, the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation published results from a survey that was sent out to more than 250 local businesses. The purpose - to determine how these businesses were handling more than a month with little to no opportunity to bring in money. The answer: about 16% of pf respondents do not think their business will survive closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Last Frontier Bar is one of the first well-known, longtime businesses to throw in the towel. A Facebook post from the bar's page went up the same day that the survey results were released, alerting patrons that the bar would not reopen and that everything inside was now for sale. Owner Ivan Ramos says that it took him about two days to sell most of what is available.

"We weren't able to get any of the loans or grants which is very unfortunate," Ramos said, on Monday.

He says Cares Act funding was not available by the time that he tried to apply, and that the paycheck protection program would not offer enough money to cover his overhead cost, regardless -- so, the ten staff members that worked at The Last Frontier Bar have now been let go, and Ramos is looking to sell the everything in the bar as a way to cover costs until he can sell the bar and its liquor license.

According to Ramos, if the municipality had given bars an option to reopen alongside restaurants, with similar guidelines, it might have given his business a fighting chance. The building can hold 200 people, and limiting that to just 50 (25% of the building's capacity) would have still generated a decent amount of revenue.

Regardless, the bar owner acknowledges that most businesses are going to have trouble if and when they do reopen, as customers may be wary of leaving their homes in the coming months.

"It will be a really slow increase," he said. "To recover all the cost when they reopen, it's going to be very tough, if not impossible."

Other businesses that are missing out on federal assistance include self-employers like Alisa Marie Gaccione. She is the only yoga instructor at the Burn and Bloom Body Movement Studio, which she also owns. Her studio would fall into the 22% of businesses that the AEDC survey says are currently uncertain about whether they will be able to reopen when the time comes.

"I've gotten no financial assistance. I haven't been able to get on unemployment," she said. "I have not been able to get loans or grants because I don't have employees ... All the loops and holes you have to jump through, it's crazy."

Gaccione has taken her classes online since the closures took effect but it's only making up for a fraction of the business that she was doing before municipal health mandates started taking effect in Anchorage.

"January was the best month I've ever had," she said. "I actually broke my toe, and all my classes were all full and all wait-listed ... I was teaching on crutches but there was so much growth and so much support. I was like 'Wow, I've done it.'

Unfortunately, that new growth in business was cut short when she was forced to close her doors in March. Since then, she's been waiting to find out when Burn and Bloom can try to start regaining momentum. Community members have started a GoFundMe account to assist the yoga studio with bills in the meantime, and Gaccione estimates that her business would not have been able to hold for more than 2 months without their support.

"I'm thinking realistically... 'How much money does it take for me to keep the doors open,' ... But at what point do I go 'That's putting me in debt for the future' ... I have two kids," she said. "That's when it becomes... 'What's worth it?'

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