Applications flood in for Juneau small business loans in first 24 hours

Venietia Santana, owner of V’s Cellar Door, pours a drink in 2013. Santana laid off her entire restaurant staff last month and is now applying for a small business relief loan. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A website went live at 5 p.m. Thursday to take in applications for small business relief loans in Juneau.

By midday Friday, dozens of completed applications had come in for the publicly financed program.

The head of the Juneau nonprofit running the program said demand is strong. At least 50 other applications were in progress.

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Venietia Santana had to lay off her restaurant’s entire 10-person staff last month as COVID-19 countermeasures ramped up. She’s the “V” who owns V’s Cellar Door in downtown Juneau.

“And that was the hardest — honestly — the hardest day of my life,” Santana said. “By the third person I wrote to, my fiance had to take over ‘cause I just couldn’t — couldn’t do it.”

It’s just Santana and her fiance now, running what’s left of the business: takeout and delivery. She said they’re doing maybe $100 of business a day, working 12-hour days.

She’s still got bills to pay, like the restaurant’s lease, utilities and insurance. So she was in the virtual line to get an emergency relief loan application into the Juneau Economic Development Council.

“The goal is to first stop the fire. You know, the fire’s going, stop the fire,” she said. “There’s a bunch of bills right now that are just on hold to pay. And most people have been really good about deferring. But the bottom line is, it’s still a deferral. The bills are still adding up.”

And that’s the idea behind the loan program, said JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst: Keep these businesses going, so the eventual economic recovery is fast.

“It’s hard to start a small business, and it’s hard to keep it open. There’s a high failure rate. So the people that we’re lending to are businesses that have gone through some hurdles, and have been able to find a way to operate successfully in Juneau’s economy. For us to lose those businesses would be really hard, because it’s going to be really hard to replace them again.”

Holst said there’s strong demand and encourages patience.

Santana said the website kept freezing on her when she tried to apply — which she understands. A lot of business owners are in situations like hers.

“I was a year away from being debt-free,” she said. “And now it’s like I’m going completely backwards. So it’s like, I feel like, ‘Wow, I’m taking out loans to save my business,’ which I will do, I will fight every step of the way. I did not work this hard to give up my dream.”

A qualified local business could be eligible for up $50,000 with little or no interest. As a ballpark figure, several Juneau Assembly members talked about helping 100 local businesses earlier this week. They set aside $3 million for the quickly-set-up loan program.

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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