Small businesses, shuttered by statewide order, hope federal program keeps them afloat

This is the busiest time of year in the haircutting business. Or, it was until COVID-19 threw everything into flux.

"Spring training, snowbirds, spring break, Easter, and tax returns, all of that is gone," said Brian Reeves, the owner of 13 Fantastic Sam's locations across the Tampa Bay area.

Reeves' stores in Hillsborough County have been closed since last week, when officials shut down non-essential businesses. Now, the statewide shutdown means stores in Polk, Pasco and Manatee counties can no longer stay open. 

That means 145 employees have had their last days, though he can pay them for two more weeks; 18 work at the store in North Lakeland.

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"I do everything I can to make sure they are taken care of," said Reeves. "But there is a lot of stuff up in the air right now."

Because he expects the closures to be temporary, the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program could help. It gives businesses two-and-a-half times their monthly payroll if they keep workers employed for eight weeks. 

Rep. Ross Spano (R-Lakeland) says it can also be used for other expenses.

"We want to make sure employers continue to keep folks on the payrolls so we can focus on keeping the transmission down," said Spano. "Keep those folks in the saddle, so to speak, so that when this crisis ends, we have the ability to continue operating beyond that point."

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It's unclear as to whether the $3.5 billion program will work as intended, or even be enough. His 13 stores grew from the one his dad started in Temple Terrace, so to suddenly have none is stunning. 

"We still have an employee who was with us from day one," he said.

He's applying for the loan on Friday, the day the program starts.

The Paycheck Protection Program was passed by Congress and signed by the president last week as part of the $2 trillion COVID-19 package.

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