Pure Florida Watersports owners Natalie Manrique and Derick Burgos did not receive any government aid in the first round of PPP funding & feared for their business, but say they are thankful that customers are slowly returning.

Derick Burgos and Natalie Manrique (photo) are the co-owners of Pure Florida Watersports off S.R. 54 in Wesley Chapel. They are small business owners. They are the people that the grants and loans from the federal government, in response to the economic hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, were supposed to help. 

Like many small businesses in Wesley Chapel, however, that help never came for the Meadow Pointe residents.

Despite applying for money through the Small Business Administration (SBA)’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Burgos and Manrique, who are engaged, received nothing. The first time. And, at our press time, they hadn’t heard anything yet about the second round.

“It’s hard,” Derick says. “We are a mom-and-pop, family-owned business. We’re pushing hard to make this work. That (PPP loan) would have helped. Our business is lucky to be alive still.”

When it came to getting an infusion of funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (or CARES) Act, a glimmer of hope was snuffed out for many Wesley Chapel businesses. 

The most coveted loan/grant sought was the PPP, which wouldn’t need to be paid back if the business showed that 75-percent of the funds were used to retain employees. But, that first $349 billion ran out quickly, and then news that bigger, well-known brands like Shake Shack, Ruth’s Hospitality Group (the parent company of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse)Inc. and even the Los Angeles Lakers were among the businesses that received checks.

And, even though they eventually returned the money amid bad press, it did little to reduce the sting felt by area small businesses.

“It was a very confusing process,” says Hope Kennedy, the CEO of the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. “We heard from many of our members. They weren’t happy.”

Nyree Bland, the co-owner of PROtential Sports, says PROtential’s after-school sports programs for kids have been closed for six weeks. She is praying the company can still offer its popular summer camps, “but we haven’t received PPP for our staff yet,” she says.

To help fill the void for county businesses, the Pasco Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously on April 21 to approve $2 million for an aid package to help the county’s small businesses. The Pasco Economic Development Council (Pasco EDC) partnered with the county to get the $2 million in grants in the hands of as many as 400 area small businesses affected by Covid-19.

The vote was held at 11:20 a.m., and the website to apply went live a minute later. Luckily, says Pasco EDC CEO Bill Cronin, the county had purchased additional bandwidth to handle the crush, but even so, the EDC received 1,439 applications in 36 hours before cutting off the process. 

“We (the county and the EDC) wanted to try and help and make sure there was some cash moving around in the economy,” Cronin says. “It went a little faster than we thought.”

The Pasco EDC has begun distributing the money, the limit of which was $5,000 per applicant. Some small businesses asked for less than that, so more than 400 applicants are receiving at least some assistance.

But, many others are still waiting for that federal help, and trying to decide if they can survive without it. Businesses throughout Florida were allowed to reopen on May 4, but social distancing guidelines and stringent rules limiting the number of customers inside restaurants and retail establishments may not provide the boost those businesses need to survive. A second round of PPP, and more aid down the road, will help — if it ever comes.

Burgos says he was “scared crapless” during the early stages of the coronavirus. He has a rosier outlook now that the quarantine restrictions have been eased.

“I had some insider scoop that businesses under 50 employees were just going to have to brace themselves,” Burgos says. “We don’t expect to get anything from PPP, but a lot of people are getting stir crazy from being inside. I know a lot of them are on the fence still, but I’m hoping they will be coming back out.”

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