BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Small businesses are taking a huge hit during this economic standstill, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, but the owners of a brand new business in Ridgecrest say they’re able to keep operations running, thanks to the help of a local credit union.
After nearly two years of planning, building, and prepping – Jake and Caiti Whitfield were proud to open their first business together in January 2020. Now, fast forward to today.
“We are now going on our seventh week of being closed. So, we have been closed as much as we have been open,” Caiti said.
The grand opening of Flight Line Tap Room, in Ridgecrest, was first put on hold following the 6.4 and 7.1 magnitude earthquakes in July. While there wasn’t any damage to the building itself, the planning process was put on the back burner.
“Every delay imaginable, and even some that weren’t, we ran into those. So... our first time opening a business, it was all a big learning process,” Jake said.
Their second setback? A global pandemic. But this time – they had employees to worry about. That’s where the Paycheck Protection Program comes in.
“So really the important thing about PPP was, we are able to pay our employees and write them checks. And help them get a source of income. And they didn’t expect that at all," the Whitfields said.
The PPP is designed to help small businesses keep their workers on the payroll. According to the Small Business Administration, loans will be forgiven if all employees are kept on the payroll for 8 weeks, and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities... Something the Whitfields plan on doing.
“We have tried to work with the govt before, it’s very overwhelming, but Eric reached out to us and said, fill out this one form. We have people here that will make sure you’re asking for the right amount and your paperwork is filled out correctly.”
Eric Bruen, the CEO of Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union, says his team has helped more than 50 Kern County businesses get the funding they need to keep their doors open.
“My staff, in order to get the first round through, we worked til 1 am, 19 hours straight, just manually submitting our 32 applicants... Because we had a dedication to make sure those 32 people were taken care of,” Bruen said.
Bruen says many of the businesses they helped were first denied by other banks.
“About 50% of the applications we’ve done are non-members," Bruen said. "The problem is that unfortunately, I think the larger the organization is, the further it distances itself from the customer relationship.”
And he understands why some business owners feel jaded when it comes to applying for these loans.
“People and lenders and all the businesses, they get into this mindset that people are out to screw you. They’re not! They’re actually looking for help," Bruen said. “These are the people that make up a community. And God forbid I have the opportunity to serve them and I choose not to.”
“Everyone is just incredible. Not what we expected. We both come from small towns up in Northern California, but nothing has given us a sense of community like Ridgecrest has.”
Even after being knocked down twice by unforeseeable circumstances... The Whitfields are back up and running – and they say they have their community to thank.
“We could have failed. We almost failed many, many times. Stick with it. Ask for help. It’s amazing what people can do when you start asking for help.”
Flight Line Tap Room is open from 4 to 6 p.m. for curbside service. They offer cans, bottles, and even growler fill ups, which is a 64-ounce jug filled with the beer of your choice. They post updates of their menu on Facebook and Instagram.
We did a follow-up interview with Bruen to find out more about the Paycheck Protection Program. You can watch the full interview here: