America small-business owners moved quickly when COVID-19 started shuttering shops in March. Fine dining restaurants shifted to takeout. Book shops introduced curbside pickup. Gyms offered classes online.
Business owners, it seemed, just needed to face this once-in-a-lifetime calamity and get through a few months, when normalcy would resume. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—government-funded forgivable loans designed to help businesses pay their employees—would help them weather the storm.
Six months later, there’s still no end in sight to the pandemic and no easy answers for small-business owners trying to survive. Strict safety protocols haven’t been enough to get customers through the door for some small businesses, and many owners—crushed by inventory and overhead costs—are grappling with hard choices.
“This is the worst small-business crisis of my lifetime, and I’ve seen a number of tough moments,” says Karen G. Mills, senior fellow at Harvard Business School. “I’m quite concerned that we haven’t