More federal help is on the way for small businesses, but it may not be soon enough for some.
In Wyandotte County, the latest small family business to announce a closure was the Frontier Steakhouse at 9338 State Ave., which has been operating there for 60 years.
The restaurant has already closed and sold off some of the kitchen equipment and furnishings, and is planning a sale, according to its announcement.
“Kansas City, Kansas, will never be the same without them,” said Lou Braswell, who has been a customer there, even writing about the restaurant previously in a business column for the Wyandotte Daily.
“It’s a great loss because they’ve been there forever, and started out with a little building, and grew it into a very well-known restaurant, a much-loved restaurant,” Braswell said.
Braswell, who is also executive director of the Leavenworth Road Association, said she was relieved to hear that the closing wasn’t due to a serious illness.
The restaurant has been up for sale previously. While as of yet, she was unaware of anything else locating at the site, any new business on that corner would have to put a lot of work into it to come up to the standard that the Laffoons have created at that location, Braswell said.
Braswell said the pandemic has been difficult for small businesses. Another small family business in Wyandotte County, a retail store, is still open but has had to trim its hours to about half of what it had before, she said.
Another bar and grill here has told Braswell that they’ve lost about half of the revenue they had the previous year, she said. That’s understandable when you think that some of them were closed previously for a considerable amount of time, and when they reopened, it wasn’t at full capacity, she said.
“If I was going to get out to go get curbside, I’d stop and think before I got in my car to go, is it worth it to get in the car and go,” she said. “It was easier just to cook. It’s just been such a strange year.”
One of the Frontier restaurant’s owners and family member, Dennis Laffoon, mentioned in his online closing announcement Dec. 8 that it was a tough year for small businesses and restaurants, along with the challenges that go with having an older building.
He said there was a whole list of reasons why the business closed.
“We had a heck of a run,” he said in his video. “It’s beyond hard.”
He mentioned economics, the building getting old, repairs, taxes, and the pandemic as among the reasons they are officially gone.
When it opened, the area near 94th and State Avenue was still somewhat semi-rural. Starting in 1959 as a small gas station and a very small restaurant with eight motel units, it gradually developed into a medium-sized sit-down family restaurant featuring home-style cooking. They added occasional live musical entertainment in the past few decades.
Laffoon said in the video it would have been great to have gone out with a big bang, an event, but with COVID-19, they just couldn’t do it.
“The thing I’m going to miss the most is doing a Christmas show,” Laffoon said, adding that he might try to do a Christmas show video from home.
The Frontier restaurant also now sits on a piece of potentially valuable real estate, just east of the Schlitterbahn property that is being redeveloped into the Homefield youth sports complex, and also is next to other property under development.
In his video, Laffoon mentioned that foremost in the family’s decision-making was the well-being of their mother, who will be 100 this month and is currently in a nursing home. She worked many years at the restaurant. According to Laffoon, the proceeds from the sales of these restaurant items were going to take care of their mother, one of the founders of the family business, who worked there into her 90s.
More federal funding on the way for small businesses
COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, and more federal funding appears to be on the way for small businesses, according to U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.
Sen. Moran said Thursday, Dec. 10, during a news conference at the University of Kansas Health System, that they are in the process of developing a new funding package and it is getting to the point of words on paper.
Sen. Moran said he would expect the Paycheck Protection Program to be a continued program in any stimulus package that is passed. It worked pretty well for Kansas businesses and employees previously, he said. In the Small Business Administration program, businesses can borrow money in order to keep their employees on the payroll, then hire them back, and the loan then becomes a grant.
Depending on the version of the bill that passes, there is interest to do more with unemployment insurance, he said. The bonus previously approved with it has created some problems with businesses in rehiring people, but there is general sentiment among his colleagues that it should be included, he said. The President and administration also are negotiating with Congress to include a payment to individuals, he said. The individual payments could be the least certain of being included, he added.
“My view is we ought to focus a lot of effort on the health care side, and we ought to focus a lot of effort on the businesses, particularly small businesses that have slipped through the cracks. In my world, that’s restaurants, it’s motels, it’s commercial property, retail establishments, a theater, places that have to draw a crowd that simply can’t draw a crowd today,” Sen. Moran said at the news conference today. “We do not want their employees (to be laid off), we do not want the business to go out of business.”
As he sees the consequences of the spread of COVID-19 in many Kansas communities, if they lose a business or a hospital because of COVID-19 and the costs associated with it and the inability to conduct business, those businesses don’t come back, he said.
“It’s pretty likely in many communities across Kansas if the local café closes because of COVID or the hardware store goes out of business, they don’t come back,” he said.
“So we need to do more in regard to keeping people employed and keeping businesses open,” he said. “We cannot afford to have a shutdown in which people are isolated at home and can’t go about doing business. We need kids in the classroom learning and parents able to go to work because their kids are in the classroom.”
The health measures, vaccine and testing are all designed to get people healthier, help them get well and avoid getting sick, he said, and in addition, it’s to keep businesses going so people can continue to be employed, Sen. Moran said.
Doctors at the KU Health System added that following the rules of infection control, such as wearing masks, washing hands, socially distancing and staying home when sick, also would be the key to keeping businesses open.
“We don’t have to shut down the economy if we follow the rules,” Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer, said at the news conference.
Wyandotte County small businesses and organizations have already received more than 100 loans and grants during 2020, it was reported on Nov. 30 to the Unified Government Commission. Local officials have previously said it has been harder for small businesses to get loans. (See http://wyandottedaily.com/wyandotte-county-businesses-receive-loans-and-grants/)
Some of the loans went through the federal government, while other loans and grants were from the UG’s existing programs. The UG awarded $50,000 in economic development grants to small businesses in April. Federal CARES Act funding provided another $825,000 to small businesses in the latter half of the year. In addition, there was $266,616 awarded in loans to Wyandotte County businesses through a regional loan fund.
Dennis Laffoon’s video of his closing announcement was posted on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1482556325394492.
The KU doctors’ news conference is online at https://www.facebook.com/kuhospital/videos/263900601823997.