Post-PPP shopping

Paris Keith of LeMars shops at Sweet Puddle Jumpers on Friday, May 1, the first day that Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed many businesses to reopen.

SHELDON—Renee Popkes was not sure what she was going to do after she was forced to close the doors of Sweet Puddle Jumpers Boutique, her downtown Sheldon store.

Before reopening Friday, May 1, Sweet Puddle Jumpers had been closed since the end of business hours on March 26, which is when Gov. Kim Reynolds announced her plan that shuttered what were deemed nonessential businesses in Iowa.

Reynolds made that decision in attempt to slow communal spread of the coronavirus

“Six weeks can just put you in the hole just like that, BOOM,” Popkes said. “It was already after January and February, which are sucky months already; it came at the worst time.”

Popkes also had trouble trying to apply for some of the assistance grants made available by the Iowa Economic Development Authority through either technical issues on the state’s end — “The site was overloaded constantly,” she said — or not meeting qualifications.

“It was terrible,” she said. “I was like: ‘What am I supposed to do?’”

Additionally, Popkes could not apply for unemployment since she does not pay herself a salary. After talking to her banker, Popkes decided to apply for a loan.

More specifically, she applied for a U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loan, an initiative designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll during the coronavirus pandemic.

SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the 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 for PPP loans with the first offering up $349 billion and the second providing $310 billion and bankers in Sheldon did their part to make sure local businesses got their fair share.

“We are happy to be doing them and I’m all for the program,” said Heidi Brown, vice president of Citizens State Bank in Sheldon.

“But our frustration has been at the way it has not worked — the onboard system — it has not worked.”

Brown and other bankers had issues due to the unintentional digital log jam created by SBA’s website as financial employees from across the country descended on the site at once when the second round of loans opened last Monday, causing extremely slow load times.

Brown estimated it took her seven hours to get one application turned in, a process that only took about 15 minutes when she started going into the office during odd hours to submit more applications.

Despite the technical hiccups, Citizens State Bank was able to turn in 102 applications, as of Friday, resulting in nearly $4 million in PPP loans for its Sheldon customers.

Austin Klett, a lender at Northwestern Bank in Sheldon, said they turned in more than 150 loans valued at about $6 million and that will save 700 jobs in the area.

“It’s been a very long two weeks, but we’re getting through it,” Klett said.

Like Brown, Klett had troubles accessing the site and said he spent 11 hours to submit just as many applications when the process reopened. He also opted to start coming in 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 divulge branch specifics but altogether it processed more than 400 PPP loans worth about $34 million as of Friday.

Iowa State Bank has full-service banking locations in Hull, LeMars, Ireton, Orange City, Paullina, Remsen, Sanborn and Sheldon.

Peoples Bank of Sheldon 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 collectively processed 508 loans.

“Overall, we were able to help these businesses retain or rehire over 4,490 jobs — a huge economic boost to our region,” said People Banks president Al Vermeer.

Peoples Bank did not disclose how much those loans were valued at.

According to the SBA, Iowa has received about $5 billion worth of PPP loans representing close to 50,000 applicants, as of Friday.

Popkes, who originally opened Sweet Puddle Jumpers in 2013, noted she is more than grateful to be one of those fortunate enough in the Hawkeye State to receive a PPP loan.

As a small-business owner, she tries to prepare herself for every situation but the coronavirus pandemic certainly caught her off-guard.

“You never think you are going to have something like this happen that closes down the United States,” Popkes said.