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'It's concerning': As Auburn businesses cope with coronavirus, county offers loans
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'It's concerning': As Auburn businesses cope with coronavirus, county offers loans

Business is down 90% for Joe Gagliostro.

The owner of Muldoon Dry Cleaners in Auburn and Skaneateles, Gagliostro has seen almost all of his customers disappear as the coronavirus pandemic seizes New York. Though dry cleaners are considered an essential business by the state and therefore Gagliostro can go to work, his problem is that almost none of his customers are able to do the same. 

"What we do is professional — shirts, suits and ties — and almost every businessman in the city and the county isn't working, traveling, going to conferences," Gagliostro said. "They're at home in their jeans in front of a computer doing Skype.

"My industry is completely unneeded right now."

The remaining 10% of Gagliostro's business comes from law enforcement, as he's a registered cleaner of their uniforms. He's also offering to pick up and deliver clothes from both locations.

But that's not enough for Gagliostro to retain his 15 employees across both Muldoon locations. After initially just letting go of his non-production positions who work less often, last week he furloughed all 15 employees for at least two weeks. He's the only one working there now. And even with no production and no staff to pay, there are still costs to keeping the "Muldoon" name on the doors, where it's been since 1923. Gagliostro is the third generation of his family to operate the business since it took ownership in 1955.

Gagliostro has applied for a Small Business Administration Disaster Loan to soften the blow, and he thanked state Sen. Pam Helming for her assistance through the process. But, like some, he wonders whether a middle ground can be struck between the devastation of a pandemic and the devastation of a paralyzed economy.

"It's concerning. I'm very concerned for Auburn in general. Auburn is all small business," Gagliostro said. "And I know for a fact that a lot of these restaurants, mom-and-pop shops and start-ups are not going to survive and reopen if this continues for another month. But that's not to say it's not the right move."

The Small Business Administration's Disaster Loans range as high as $2 million. But those who need significantly less to stay afloat during the pandemic may find it more appropriate to apply for a microloan from the Cayuga Economic Development Agency, said Tracy Verrier, executive director of Cayuga Strategic Solutions, a joint venture of the agency and the county chamber of commerce.

Today, the agency is launching an emergency microloan program, Verrier said. The loans will have no application fee and an initial no-interest deferment period, followed by an extended low-interest repayment period. They are available to for-profit, locally owned businesses located within Cayuga County that can demonstrate negative impact due to the pandemic, and positive (or, for new businesses, improving) cash flow prior. There are no restrictions on the use of microloan funds beyond legality, but Verrier recommends that businesses contact the agency before applying.

"It's a smaller amount, but it might be the right size for a business that just needs to pay rent, or invest in a webcam," Verrier said of the loans.

The microloan fund is one way the agency is working to support local businesses during the pandemic. Along with the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District and the Cayuga County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the agency is using the hashtag #SupportCayuga on social media to draw attention to the needs of local businesses right now. The BID is also drawing four names of downtown business owners and employees every week, and giving them $25 gift certificates redeemable at more than 40 businesses in the district.

But the needs of local businesses also vary, and so the Cayuga Economic Development Agency has designed a solution for that, too. Available at cayugaeda.org is a Coronavirus Response Survey that assesses the specific needs of each business that completes it. They will then be contacted by a member of the agency team or referred to a mentor with the Auburn chapter of SCORE.

Those who can't access or complete the survey can reach out to an agency specialist directly (businesses with fewer than 10 employees: Business Development Specialist Derek Simmonds at dsimmonds@cayugaeda.org or [315] 252-3500 ext. 232); businesses with more than 10 employees: Danielle Szabo at dszabo@cayugaeda.org or [315] 252-3500 ext. 231).

No matter how they do, Verrier said, local businesses should get in touch with the agency to see how it can help them during this historically challenging time.

"Everyone's kind of struggling right now," she said. "We want businesses to understand that they should reach out. We don't want businesses to sit and struggle by themselves. We're here to help."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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