Keeping ‘mom and pop’ shops open

“When somebody turns in an application to me, knowing the story, knowing they are saying, ‘Orlando, if I can’t get this loan, not only am I going to have to lay off people, I may have to shut my doors.’ You take that very seriously.” 

• Orlando Vasquez

BEEVILLE – It’s 2 o’clock in the morning on April 28 and just one light remains aglow in the corner office of the Texas Champion Bank building on the corner of North Saint Mary’s and West Bell streets.

The distinct click clack of keys on a keyboard rings throughout the otherwise empty building.

Behind the desk inside that corner office sits a weary Orlando Vasquez.

He’s been going for 18 hours straight, and nearly all of them have been spent on the exact same task: applying for loans for local business owners through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“The heartbreak that some of these customers are going through ... they’re either having to shut down or partially shut down, and they’re struggling just to try to stay open, just to try to survive,” Vasquez said last week during an interview he managed to squeeze in during a rare break in his loaded schedule.

“You hear the stories left and right, and it’s heartbreaking.”

The PPP loan has taken over Vasquez’s life.

The program offers loans to business owners and is “designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll,” according to the SBA’s website.

Applying for a PPP loan, Vasquez said, requires a small business owner to provide proof of their average monthly payroll, which is then multiplied by 2 1/2 to determine the loan amount.

The loans, according to the SBA’s website, will be forgiven “if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.”

The program was first allocated $349 billion in early April after the CARES Act was passed by Congress and then signed into law by President Donald Trump. 

In just 13 days, all of that money had been doled out by the SBA.

Congress then approved the allocation of $324 billion to the program in mid-April.

That money became available for loans when the SBA’s online portal reopened to lenders April 27.

“I did not leave my office for 36 straight hours to get in as many of these loan requests in as possible,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez, who is the president of the Beeville’s Texas Champion Bank branch, estimated that he’s been working up to 80 hours per week since the PPP program first went live.

And 99 percent of those hours, Vasquez said, have been spent on PPP loans.

“There’s no question that it has completely overtaken what else we do in banking right now, at least for somebody like us,” he said.

“You can’t just take that application and put it to the side and say, ‘Oh, I’ll get to it when I get to it.’ You’ve got to be on top of it. ... You’ve got to get an answer to that client because that could mean everything to that person.”

The work, Vasquez admits, is very personal to him.

“When somebody turns in an application to me, knowing the story, knowing they are saying, ‘Orlando, if I can’t get this loan, not only am I going to have to lay off people, I may have to shut my doors.’ You take that very seriously.”

He couldn’t give an exact figure on how many PPP loans he’s processed, but he did say it’s certainly a three-figure number.

“It’s been substantial for us,” he said.

But all of that work might not be enough, Vasquez admitted.

“The only way we can know that answer is if our country opens up by June 1,” he said – if these PPP loans are enough to keep businesses alive in the face of state-wide shutdowns in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“If it doesn’t, the question will be, ‘Now what?’

“We’ve got to keep these ‘mom and pop’ businesses running; we’ve got to keep them open,” Vasquez continued. “They are the backbone of this country. What happens after June 1 is a scary thought.”

Kevin J. Keller is the sports editor at the Bee-Picayune and the Advance-Guard and can be reached at 343-5223, or at sports@MySouTex.com, or follow him on Twitter, @beegoliadsports.

Kevin J. Keller has been the sports editor at the Beeville Bee-Picayune since 2014. He can be reached by email at sports@mysoutex.com or by phone at 361-343-5223, or you can follow him on Twitter @beepicsports.