SHELDON—Renee Popkes wasn’t sure what she was going to do after she was forced to close the doors of Sweet Puddle Jumpers Boutique, her store in downtown Sheldon.
Before reopening on Friday, May 1, Sweet Puddle Jumpers had been closed since the end of business hours on March 26, when Governor Kim Reynolds announced her plan to close what were considered non-essential businesses in the Iowa.
Reynolds made the decision to try to slow the community spread of the coronavirus
“Six weeks can put you in the hole like that, BOOM,” Popkes said. “It was already after January and February, which are already bad months; it happened at the worst time.
Popkes also had trouble applying for some of the assistance grants made available by the Iowa Economic Development Authority due to technical issues on the state side — “The site was constantly overloaded,” a- she said – or fail to meet the qualifications.
“It was terrible,” she said. “I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do?'”
Also, Popkes couldn’t file for unemployment because she wasn’t paying herself a salary. After talking to his banker, Popkes decided to apply for a loan.
Specifically, she applied for a loan from the US Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, an initiative designed to directly incentivize small businesses to keep their employees on the payroll during the coronavirus pandemic.
The SBA will cancel the loans if all employees are kept on payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities, according to the federal agency.
There were two rounds of PPP loans, the first offering $349 billion and the second $310 billion and Sheldon’s bankers did their part to ensure local businesses got their fair share.
“We’re happy to do them and I’m all for the program,” said Heidi Brown, vice president of Citizens State Bank in Sheldon.
“But our frustration was the way it didn’t work – the on-board system – it didn’t work.”
Brown and other bankers got into trouble due to the unintended digital traffic jam created by the SBA website as finance workers from across the country descended on the site at once when the second round of loans was was opened last Monday, which resulted in extremely slow loading times.
Brown estimated that it took her seven hours to turn in an application, a process that only took about 15 minutes when she started coming to the office during odd hours to submit more applications.
Despite technical issues, Citizens State Bank was able to submit 102 applications on Friday, resulting in nearly $4 million in PPP loans for its Sheldon customers.
Austin Klett, a Northwestern Bank lender in Sheldon, said he has made more than 150 loans worth around $6 million and it will save 700 jobs in the area.
“It’s been a really long two weeks, but we’re getting through it,” Klett said.
Like Brown, Klett had difficulty accessing the site and said he spent 11 hours submitting so many applications when the process reopened. He also opted to start coming at odd hours and found much more success.
“I went from 11 on Monday to between 45 and 50 yesterday,” Klett said last Wednesday.
Iowa State Bank did not disclose branch details, but in total it processed more than 400 PPP loans worth about $34 million as of Friday.
Iowa State Bank has full-service bank branches in Hull, LeMars, Ireton, Orange City, Paullina, Remsen, Sanborn, and Sheldon.
Peoples Bank of Sheldon has processed about 40 PPP loans. The financial institution also has branches in Akron, Hawarden, Hinton Lester, Rock Valley, Sioux Center, Sioux City, and Jasper, MN, and has collectively processed 508 loans.
“Overall, we were able to help these businesses retain or rehire more than 4,490 jobs, a huge economic boost for our region,” People Banks Chairman Al Vermeer said.
Peoples Bank did not disclose the value of these loans.
According to the SBA, Iowa received about $5 billion in PPP loans representing nearly 50,000 applicants on Friday.
Popkes, who originally opened Sweet Puddle Jumpers in 2013, said she was beyond grateful to be one of the lucky ones in Hawkeye State to receive a PPP loan.
As a small business owner, she tries to prepare for every situation, but the coronavirus pandemic has certainly caught her off guard.
“You never think something like this will happen that will shut down the United States,” Popkes said.