In the wake of the devastating Independence Day fire that destroyed Café Moxie and badly damaged the Bunch of Grapes bookstore, the U.S. Small Business Administration has made emergency low-interest loans available to small businesses across the Island that were negatively affected by the blaze.
On the recommendation of Gov. Deval L. Patrick, the acting commissioner of the Small Business Administration, Jovita Carranza, announced on Friday he would make the low-interest loans available to small businesses and private nonprofit organizations in both Dukes County and adjacent Barnstable County.
“We will be swift in our efforts to help the business owners with their working capital needs,” Mr. Carranza said in a written statement.
Eligible businesses and nonprofits can qualify for the economic injury disaster loans for up to $2 million. The interest rates for the loans will not exceed four per cent with loan terms up to 30 years. The small business association determines eligibility based on the size and type of business and its financial resources.
Robert H. Nelson, Massachusetts district director for the small business administration, encouraged businesses in Vineyard Haven and the rest of the Island that were hit hard by the fire to apply for the loans.
“The small business administration can help these small businesses overcome their economic losses . . . but the help cannot start until they submit a disaster loan application to us,” Mr. Nelson said.
Leslie Hewson, owner of Mediterranean Restaurant and president of the Tisbury Business Association, said businesses must demonstrate a 40 per cent reduction in revenue during a specific period to qualify for the loans. But Ms. Hewson said businesses can provide information on how they might be affected in the fall and winter seasons when they apply for the loans.
“I encourage businesses to look ahead to the fall and winter when the Bunch of Grapes always plays such an important role in the downtown economy. I am telling them even if they aren’t experiencing a reduction now, their numbers may be off when the [summer] season ends,” Ms. Hewson said.
Ms. Hewson said most businesses that qualify for the disaster loans will be locked into an interest rate of around 2.5 per cent. She said the loans can be used to offset losses in working capital directly related to the Fourth of July fire; the money cannot used to make improvements or purchase new equipment.
She said businesses who apply for the loans and don’t use the money will not be penalized.
“If you don’t use it, you don’t use it. The money just gets returned. So there is no reason not to apply if you were hurt by the fire,” she said.
Ms. Hewson said business in Vineyard Haven does seem to be off this summer, although it is not as bad as some predicted. “There are a lot of people walking around town and stopping in the stores; what I am hearing is they are not parting with their money as easily [as previous years],” she said.
Because of the regional and far-ranging economic impact of the fire, there was initially speculation that state or federal grant money might be available to offset the damage caused by the fire. However, most local and state officials now agree it is unlikely that any free money will be made available.
To apply for low-interest disaster loans call the small business administration at 1-800-659-2955 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, or e-mail customer service at email@example.com.