Samantha Canestro first tried getting an emergency coronavirus loan for her Montgomery County business in early April, only to face weeks of technical difficulties. She tried again Monday, is still waiting, and she’s dreading having to lay off employees if money doesn’t come through.

“I never imagined we’d face anything like this," said Canestro, president of Royersford Spring Co. in Royersford, Montgomery County, which manufactures seating for customers that include SEPTA and Amtrak. She’s seeking a $120,000 PPP loan through a small local bank — enough for 2½ months of pay for 12 full-time employees.

Canestro was one of many small-business owners here and across the country who rushed Monday to get a piece of the $310 billion that Congress added to the troubled Paycheck Protection Program, a Small Business Administration program that was meant to help firms keep employees on payroll during the coronavirus pandemic. Many banks disbursing the loans were overwhelmed by initial demand earlier this month, the smallest businesses struggled to get cash, and the program quickly burned through its first $350 billion.

Early data from banks suggest that roughly 80% of U.S. small businesses missed out on the first round of PPP loans, which are forgivable if used to cover payroll and such expenses as rent. Accountants cautioned Monday that businesses should not submit a second application if an initial one from earlier this month is still pending.

And some business owners were so demoralized by their initial PPP experiences that they held back when the window for applications opened at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Jennie Love, a flower farmer in Roxborough who has championed the “farm to vase” movement, does the bulk of her business growing flowers for weddings and special events. Her Love 'n Fresh Flowers firm had five employees, including herself. She’s already had to lay off two.

“I started the business in 2009 and had zero loans, so I didn’t have a banking relationship with a lender,” she said. She convinced her bank to take her application within days of PPP opening, but was rejected for a $10,000 loan.

“The whole system’s overwhelmed," she said. “I’m frustrated personally. My biggest concern is small businesses are not getting the money.”

Even with a second round of funds, she’s given up on applying, she said: “It feels like false hope. I’d rather invest my time in marketing and building.”

Jennie Love, owner of Love 'n Fresh Flowers in Philadelphia.
REGINA_MILLER
Jennie Love, owner of Love 'n Fresh Flowers in Philadelphia.

Like other small-business owners trying to penetrate a system in which big banks took care of their biggest clients first, Danielle Ruttenberg had better luck with a community lender.

Along with Rebecca Davies, Ruttenberg owns Remark Glass, a hand-blown recycled glass company in South Philadelphia. The eight-person firm secured a PPP loan for $28,400 through the Women’s Opportunities Resource Center.

“We were pretty conservative," she said. “We didn’t want a large sum we’d have to pay back.”

Initially, though, they had applied through a major bank.

“I was refreshing a page every 10 minutes to access a link," Ruttenberg said. "I was held for over 10 days. We couldn’t get the funding, even though we were over-prepared. I wasn’t asking for a big lump sum, just enough to get us through.”

But the Women’s Opportunity Resource Center ultimately came through.

Remark Glass also received a micro-grant through the city of Philadelphia, “which got us through a payroll period," Ruttenberg said. "We’re more fortunate than some other businesses.”