OLD SAYBROOK — The one mile stretch of Main Street is peppered with women-owned businesses getting hammered by the health — turned economic — pandemic and the Women’s Business Development Council wants to help.
“If the women-owned businesses in our town, along Main Street and Boston Post Road, were to go away, it would drastically change the town,” said Old Saybrook Economic Development Director Susan Beckman. “These small businesses are incredibly important to not only our town character, but also the local economy.”
Main Street is a microcosm within a macrocosm, according to Beckman. Much like the rest of the country, approximately 40 to 50 percent of the businesses along the main street are small and women-owned and operated. Many have twenty or fewer employees.
Most of these ‘microbusinesses,’ have missed out on financial aid from the government to help stay afloat during the economic storm.
Fran Pastore, chief executive officer of the WBDC in Connecticut, said that the phones have not stopped ringing recently with questions from such businesses. “What do I do now?” “How do I keep the lights on, and my employees paid?”
“It’s been a struggle over this past couple of weeks,” said Mirsina Filindarakis, owner of Mirsina’s Restaurant on Main Street in Old Saybrook.
Filindarakis, who has lived in town for over 20 years, opened her business five years ago and has been doing well. However, the pandemic has put more than a kink in her daily routine.
With a usual operating staff of six to eight employees on any given day, Filindarakis has been reduced to a skeleton crew of just three workers at a time, including herself. In addition, she said that as weeks pass, it is getting increasingly difficult to get her full food orders from wholesalers.
Filindarakis has filed for financial help through different federal aid programs, however, to date, she has not received any funds.
“Once I get some financial relief, I will be able to hire some of my staff back,” said Filindarakis.
“The state is conscious of the fact that the microbusinesses owned by women and minorities are the ones most affected and it is looking into different strategies of how to best address this at this time,” said Pastore. “Right now, the SBA funds are exhausted and there is no more money available. The hope is that over the next few days an additional 350 billion dollars will be released to help businesses in need.”
Pastore said that small businesses need to be flexible and learn how to pivot in these uncertain economic times to survive. They also need to ready themselves for additional aid opportunities.
“I recommend that businesses get their documentation together right now, so they are prepared and ready when new funds are released,” said Pastore, who explained that the WBCD is a resource for women-owned businesses in Connecticut and they can help owners get the necessary paperwork in order, to apply for emergency fund applications as soon as possible.
Pastored advised women-owned businesses to reach out, ask for help and utilize all the resources out there to aid them.
“We have seen more people connect with us over the last month than we do in a typical three-year period,” said Pastore. “More inquiries, more communication, more support groups and more zoom calls. This is all good.”
While appreciative that there are programs out there trying to aid business owners in need, Filindarakis would like to see relief funding focused more toward “true” small businesses, that are “mom and pop” in nature, and ones that provide jobs to their local communities directly.
“These are the businesses that need the help the most right now,” said Filindarakis. “I have had to cut my staff in half right now, unfortunately, and everyone I employ is from our community, so this is hurting everyone. A true small business has way less than 500 employees and we don’t have corporate backing to help us through. Our business is how we pay our bills and the jobs we supply in our community are how our employees live here and pay their bills.”
In an effort to help as many women-owned businesses as they can, the WBDC has opened up their membership free of cost so that available resources can be utilized more readily.
“Sometimes, help just means someone to talk to and we are here to do that also,” said Pastore. “We all have to be creative and get through this.”
For more information about funding opportunities and programs, as well as strategies to adjust marketing during the pandemic and other helpful tips for women business owners go to www.ctwbdc.org.