Small town of Preston, Minnesota struggles to overcome economic impact of COVID-19
“The hardest part is just not being constantly aware of what’s going to happen next week,” said Besik, who for a year has co-owned Trout City Brewing in Preston, Minn., With his wife, Anita Besik. “The rumored bars and restaurants will be closed again. The idea that’s what’s going to happen.”
The Besiks are among those who responded to a survey of businesses in Preston conducted by Community and Economic Development Associates. This survey, which was sent to 75 companies in Preston and to which 34 responded, shows a community that has weathered the COVID-19 storm so far but is worried about what might happen next.
“All of our businesses have reopened,” said Cathy Enerson, CEDA Business Development Specialist and Director of the Preston Economic Development Authority.
Enerson said much of the success was due to the loan and grant programs – from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program to the EDA Loan Fund and the State of Minnesota DEED Grants – have helped maintain businesses afloat and, in a few cases, even take the downturn as an opportunity for expansion.
However, according to the survey, a second shutdown would certainly kill a handful of businesses in the city of about 1,300 people.
“A lot of companies have used up their slush funds,” Besik said. “Right now, they’re driving right next to it. “
Besik said the brewery and pub he ran might be able to withstand a second shutdown – “People still drink beer,” he said – but that would depend on how long that shutdown is. .
“The confidence factor for the government is gone,” he said.
Besik added that although he avoided things like PPP loans, he applied for CARES law funding through the county to offset some of the impact of the pandemic.
Linda Mathison, however, used a few programs to run her fitness center business, including a small grant for economic disaster loans. She also received a zero percent loan from the Department of Employment and Economic Development to help pay off her mortgage on three home loans. – for fitness centers in Harmony, Spring Valley and Preston – as well as helping to pay for utilities.
But when her business closed in March, there was a period of concern that everything she had worked to build would be gone.
“We have lost limbs,” Mathison said. “But the community has been great, and there are people who still support us even if they don’t come.”
Part of Mathison’s recipe for survival was bringing in people who needed physical therapy even though his business, Fit Express, was closed to the general public. Still, members over 65 have been reduced by two-thirds from a year ago or before the March shutdown.
Although it can now open to 25% of its capacity, many immunocompromised people do not come to Fit Express, even though exercise and maintaining strength is essential for staying healthy, Mathison said.
“I hear people say, ‘I could do things at home’, but it’s not the same,” she said.
And the possibility of another shutdown causes his panic.
“When you close, people lose the habit of coming,” Mathison said. “It would be devastating.”
Keeping businesses open in Preston has been a concerted and joint effort, said Mary Schwarz, vice president and lender of F&M Bank. The bank has helped businesses with PPP loans and worked with CEDA, the Preston Chamber of Commerce and the city to educate businesses on programs that can help them weather the pandemic. But it was hard.
Schwarz noted that many programs designed to help businesses have changed over time, making it difficult for business owners to decide whether a particular program is right for them.
“Things have changed through this process, and things can still change,” said Schwarz.
Ultimately, it’s important to keep businesses open so that small towns don’t die from COVID-19.
“We want to see all of these companies survive through this,” Schwarz said. “It affects our whole community if they don’t.”