By Roger Paradiso
I remember they used to play this con game, Three-card Monte. They played it over by the subway kiosk on Sixth Avenue and West 4th Street. You just need a cardboard box. Pull out the cards, shuffle the deck, and play Three-card Monte. Nobody ever won that game, right? I don’t know where those scam artists went; maybe to Washington D.C. They must be running the banks too. Right now, the question is: where’s the money to save the small business owners?
I check in with my friend Jamal who is facing the loss of his forty-year family business. It’s called Village Music World and is on the now-barren Bleecker Street. Jamal said, “I was turned down by HSBC Bank for both the PPP and the Disaster Loan. They say there is no more money left in the fund. They offered me a business loan at 2.5 percent at another bank, but a week later they called and said they can’t do it. I started yelling at them. What do you mean? I’m your customer? You make money off of me. You need to get me a loan. He blamed the government for not giving them more money.”
Brock Blake, CEO of Lendio, the largest-business lending marketplace in the U.S., stated, “Ninety-four percent of small business owners, many of whom have applications pending with Lendio and other lenders, have been left to fend for themselves. I estimate that nearly $850 billion is what it will take to get small businesses through this crisis.”
Jamal was checking in with me by text every other day: “So I talk to other business on Bleecker and they said they got nowhere with anything the government was offering. The PPP and all that. They’re thinking of shutting down. My landlord is pushing me for the rent. He wants all three months on June 9th. I have some very hard decisions to make in the next couple of weeks. Right now, I would say I am moving out.”
I emailed Nick, owner of Cinema Village (and two other theaters in the boroughs), and he responded, “Difficult times are here. Cinema Village is not looking for any grants, gifts that will be a burden to our city. All we are asking is help from anyone that can get SBA to approve our pending loan application.” Nick, who is his own landlord and tenant, emailed again, “I operate Cinema Village at 22 East 12th Street for all these years (since 1964). Although my credit is excellent, I am willing to give a personal guarantee and whatever it takes to get through this while all our revenue, 100 percent, has being wiped out by the NYC order to shut down, while we must pay full rent/property tax, and we will pay every dollar back.” I tried to help Nick, but he wasn’t getting responses from the people I referred him to.
James Drougas of Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Books on Carmine Street called me to say, “I applied for the various loans on offer with no success and very little communication except basic acknowledgement, by email, and subsequent apologies for running out of funding. At least I know they got the applications.”
I read an article in the Los Angeles Times: “The PPP is a Small Business Administration loan program designed to give small businesses financial relief. Businesses can apply for up to 250 percent of their monthly payroll: if your payroll is $100,000 per month, you can apply for a $250,000 loan. The loans are forgiven if 75 percent of the money is used to pay employees. Banks, naturally, will profit. Collecting fees ranging from one percent for loans over $2 million to five percent for loans under $350,000, they stand to make billions from the PPP.”
I check in with Torrie at the Half Pint on West 3rd and Thompson Streets. In desperation she has started a delivery service but explains, “there’s no one around, no kids in the dorms, nothing.” Torrie thinks that the insurance companies need a bailout so that businesses can collect on their losses due to the pandemic. A pandemic is an exclusion on the policy. She says, “If nothing happens soon, we’re all shutting our doors for real.”
I emailed my friend, Mark Crispin Miller from NYU. He teaches media and culture and knows the Village inside out. Mark says, “The PPP is a disaster in itself, providing millions in assistance to the banks and other mammoth enterprises that don’t need it while giving far too little to those struggling little businesses that need it desperately, and that this city certainly will need when this disastrous lockdown finally ends.”
So yes, the PPP is a poorly written scam of sorts, conceived by the Three-card Monte crowd in the swamp in D.C. and administered by the banks. OMG, is there a snowball’s chance in hell of this ever working?
Jamal called me on May 18th. “I got the PPP but this is crazy; it’s at half what I ask. They gave me seven grand for eight weeks. I need double that. And where is the rent coming from? No customers now. I lose money for what?” I tell him there is hope. They can extend the PPP and fix it. “I’m going to the bank,” says Jamal. “Now Jamal,” I say, “don’t get into a fight.” “No, I tell them I’ll take the personal loan,” he responds. I ask what percent the loan is. “6.5 percent,” he says, for $10 thousand. “But if I put up my house I could get more; but I really don’t want to put up my house.” I see the Three-card Monte guys smiling. You following the cards?
According to Motley Fool, “the banks have raked in over $10 billion on the first phase of the PPP.”
I pass by the kiosk where Three-card Monte hustlers used to hang out before they went to work for the banks. They were right there behind the subway kiosk. The dealer was always looking for a sucker. The mark has no chance whatsoever of winning. Zero chance. The only one winning is the shill who is part of the hustle. They spot a cop car and boom! They scatter like rats leaving only an empty box.
When I called or emailed several owners of iconic village businesses there was no May Day this year, which is the official celebration of spring. When I visited the Village later in the month, I thought of the other definition of “mayday,” which is the international call of distress. If things don’t change with aid from our government, I’m afraid we will crash and there will be a lot of casualties. There is still time to prevent this crash by contacting your elected officials; or send a letter to the editor at WestView News, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will forward it to local officials.