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What will it take to keep the doors to small businesses open?

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Posted at 10:59 PM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 01:23:03-04

GOLDEN, Colo. — Across the country, small businesses and employees have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Concerns over safety, shutdowns, new restrictions, and the potential for new outbreaks has made doing business in 2020 a difficult task.

Now, Congress is debating a new round of stimulus money in the form of direct payments, loans, and programs likely designed to keep the economy moving. But who should benefit?

Denver7 traveled to a small coffee shop in the town of Golden called Generous Coffee to listen to owners, employees, and customers about what they think. According to one of the owners, Melissa Lutz, the coffee shop is "for-profit and for people." A portion of every sale goes to help children in underserved communities.

But making a profit has been difficult amid the coronavirus pandemic. As with many small businesses, the pandemic has upended plans and procedures.

"We kind of fought through everything together as a team," said Lutz, describing the difficult months of the COVID-19 shutdowns. "I felt like we were pivoting daily. We would get new information from the government. We would have to shift things around."

The business was able to survive because of innovation by managers and emergency programs like the PPP loans that helped Generous Coffee retain its employees. Now that the city of Golden is back open, the company relies on its loyal customer base to keep selling coffee.

"We are super reliant on our regular customers and our loyal customers who believe in the mission of our business."

For the employees of Generous, the pandemic has presented its own challenges. As businesses like coffee shops were required to close, baristas like Sara Wells were furloughed from their jobs.

"I live paycheck to paycheck so I was just like, ‘how am I going to get money?'" said Wells. The company hired her back and she says the PPP loans were crucial to keeping her employed. "I was really grateful that they were able to hire me back on."

Now that a new round of stimulus bills are being debated in Congress, the employees and owners of small businesses like Generous Coffee want to make sure their voices are heard.

As a business owner, Lutz says she wants to keep people employed.

"Any sort of resource to just give us the peace of mind that we have that to keep our doors open, it just makes a really big difference," she said. "I think it is really important that there is some sort of assistance for the businesses that are prepping for really slow months."

Another concern for café owners, who are currently seating people outside, is the pending winter months that will no longer allow them to retain as many customers. If stimulus money is only sent to individuals, some businesses will not see the benefits.

"Heading into the winter months is a really scary time because we have missed the peak of our season and our traffic flow," she explained. "The extra money is just the piece of mind of knowing that we can fulfill orders."

But money to businesses might not address the needs of employees also struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Any type of uncertainty is scary," explained Wells, saying the first $1,200 stimulus check made "a world of a difference for people like me working in the service industry."

For employees, direct payments allow them to take care of expenses and overhead that many paychecks cannot cover. For Wells, her first stimulus check went directly to "mostly just rent and groceries."

But there are many people in the Golden community connected to coffee shops like Generous who don't work there. One customer who shared her opinion said, regardless of where the money goes, small businesses need to be the focus.

"I know those stimulus checks are critical to helping them bridge through," said Nelisha Firestone, a customer at Generous Coffee. "They don’t have the financial ability to raise cash with stock repurchase plans and things like that."

With political fighting in Washington, D.C., the three agree: Politicians need to focus less on politics and more on helping Americans.

"I think right now we just have to win the battle. And part of that is spending money," explained Firestone. "We will deal with the ramifications on the other end."

When it comes to the much-needed aid, Wells says "I want them to put themselves in people’s shoes who work paycheck to paycheck and just think about how losing a job might affect their entire life."

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.