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Federal Paycheck Protection Program Loan Helps Small Business Momo Transition to Online Retail

Momo before COVID-19 | Photo courtesy of momoseattle.com

Lei Ann Shiramizu and her husband Tom Kleifgen are the owners of Momo ,  a small business located in the historic Jackson Building on the corner of 6th and Jackson. Momo sells clothing and accessories, home accents, and “omiyage” – a Japanese term meaning  “perfectly presented gift.” Lei Ann and Tom often refer to Momo as “Scandinasian,” honoring her culture as a Japanese-American who grew up in Hawaii, and Tom’s Swedish culture.  

Momo’s stationery collection | Photo courtesy of momoseattle.com

Like many other retail establishments in Seattle, Momo closed following Governor Inslee’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order issued in February to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the region’s COIVD-19 response continued, Lei Ann and Tom decided to pivot their business operations to an online model to avoid permanently shutting down. That would require additional resources. 

They heard about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—a relief resource for businesses impacted by COVID-19 — and as soon as funding became available in April, decided to apply for one of the PPP loans. Their application was successful, and they received money on May 8. 

The process of applying for the loan involved several steps. First, Lei Ann and Tom filled out an application through the bank where they have their business account. She explains, “we went online and applied; it was simple, but we were not sure exactly what we were supposed to provide.”

They didn’t hear back from that bank, so after consulting with a private Facebook group of other business owners they applied again through a different bank, and received an email telling them to wait for a more detailed response. By that time, however, the funding for the first round of the PPP had been exhausted. 

Soon thereafter, Congress funded a second round of PPP loans, and through another network of small businesses owners, Lei Ann and Tom learned of a different strategy: the nonprofit NDC was working with local small businesses and helping them navigate the PPP loan application process. Her multifaceted network of small businesses “really pulled together and shared information” because “so many of us were frustrated.” 

Visit the NDC website to learn more

Local NDC staff work with businesses in low-income census tracts in Seattle and King County. As of earlier this month, they had helped 55 businesses in the City of Seattle secure PPP loans worth $4.1 million. On average, businesses who received loans through NDA had seven employees and received loans of $71,728. 

Lei Ann says Melissa Lafayette at NDC helped them complete the paperwork and NDC funded the loan. The process “wasn’t intuitive” and she appreciated Melissa’s support tremendously. The time between applying  through NDC and receiving money in their bank account took less than a week. 

The PPP loan Momo received  has helped the store stay afloat through the pandemic-related closure. Tom says, “it helped stop us from bleeding money.” They upgraded their website, and Lei Ann has changed the focus of her retail strategy from in-store, customer-intensive interactions to an online platform.  

“I took the kernel of Omiyage and made it the bulk of our business… I looked at what we had and put together gift sets that related thematically  — for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays,” and other occasions, says Lei Ann. Read more about this creative effort on her blog, “Momo to Go.” 

As Lei Ann looks toward reopening, she acknowledges that this, too, will entail new challenges and require nimble adjustment. She wonders how she’ll combine the demands of Momo’s online and delivery model with in-store, customer-intensive interactions. She’s not sure, but she’s nevertheless “energized” and confident in her ability to adapt yet again. 

If you’re a small business owner who is eligible for a PPP loan, but you haven’t yet applied, now is the time. There’s still over $100 billion available to fund these forgivable loans to small businesses, and we want to encourage everyone to pursue this option if you qualify to do so. Please, don’t delay! The deadline to apply is June 30, but the program may run out of funds before then. These funds can help sustain, and even improve, your business during these uncertain times.  

If you’d like to apply for a PPP loan, we recommend you start by contacting the bank that handles your business account. You can apply through any institution that is participating in the program, and each bank has its own application process.  

An application for the Paycheck Protection Program with a reminder note stuck to it.

Our OED team has worked with approximately 440 business owners who have received Small Business Administration (SBA) and PPP loans. Though the federal government has not yet released precise numbers for our region, we know there are many small businesses in our community that have successfully applied for – and are benefiting from – PPP funds. 

OED has focused particularly on providing in-language resources for immigrant business owners. The OED phone line enables callers to leave voice mail messages in eight different languages; callers then receive a response from a staff person or translator who speaks their language and can help. 

If you need translation services or other support, or need a referral to a lender, OED is here to help. Call us at (206) 684-8090 or email [email protected]