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Shops on Ogden's 25th Street struggling, with hardly any relief from federal loans

Posted at 10:37 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 00:37:39-04

OGDEN, Utah — Utah small businesses that hoped to apply for federal loans to get them through the pandemic are out of luck. The Small Business Administration announced Thursday that $350 billion in loan money, part of the COVID-19 stimulus package, has dried up.

On Historic 25th Street in Ogden, store owners will tell you that they love owning their businesses on a street known for its one-of-a-kind, mom-and-pop shops.

"I like the feel down here, and vibe," said Kenneth Cassar, owner of jewelry store The Diamond Room.

The historic buildings are full of unique vibes. Business owners say they often see a lot of tourists, as well as locals who make an event of shopping on 25th Street.

They can find stores like Endless Indulgence Retro Wear.

"We've been told many times, 'I've never seen anything like it,'" said owner Carrie Vondrus, of what people tell her upon walking into the 1920-1950s clothing and accessories store.

And no one has truly ever seen anything like what they're seeing now-- the store, empty without customers.

25th Street is completely dead, with hardly a person in sight.

That leaves stores like Endless Indulgence-- which is still open for business-- struggling to stay above water.

The shop is large enough, Carrie said, that customers are able to practice social distancing. They are keeping the shop clean as well.

Still, without tourists and locals to come by and browse-- it's slow-going.

"We've seen a significant drop in walk-in traffic," Carrie said. "And needless to say, we've had to shorten our hours here at the shop."

Shortened hours and less customers, for her, translates to less income for rent, utilities, insurance, and other costs to run the business.

Carrie tried to jump in on a small business loan, as many become available to offer relief during the COVID-19 closures and stay-at-home orders.

However, Carrie said she was denied.

Across the street, 25th Street Boutique is also still open for business, but owner Carol Wiltse explained that barely anyone is coming into the store.

She said they are filling online orders, and even began offering local delivery. It still doesn't replace her normal walk-in traffic-- especially when she said that 20 to 30 percent of daily sales normally come from tourists.

Carol said she applied for SBA loans, then loans through Chase bank.

"It's been about a week and a half of applying for different loans," she said. And a week and a half after applying-- she said she hasn't heard anything.

"It was almost a false hope, where a lot of the public thinks the small businesses are being taken care of-- and they're not," Carol said.

On Thursday, she saw more evidence of false hope with the SBA announcement that the nearly $350 billion set aside from the stimulus package through the CARES Act, completely dried up.

The SBA stopped taking any new applications.

"It was an eye-jerker, it was an awakening this morning to go online and see that they ran out of money," Kenneth Cassar said. "Well, what does that mean?"

The jewelry store owner said he employs four people at The Diamond Room.

He said he applied for a loan the very first day. Kenneth called his bank on Thursday, and they gave their assurances that he was locked into his loan money.

The money has yet to arrive, but Kenneth is hopeful.

"I'm looking forward to that," he said. Without that money, he said he would have to consider laying off team members.

The vibe on Ogden's Historic 25th Street is now uncertain.

Carrie said she already knows of a business shutting its doors, the pandemic impacts too much to handle.

What keeps the mom-and-pop shops going now, everyone agreed, is the loyal customers who don't want to see them close.

"Thank you," Carrie said, pausing as she began to tear up. "Thank you for supporting everything that you guys have done, up until this point."