Business

What You Need to Know: A Small Business Crisis Manual

A list of resources that might come in handy.


Passers-by walk near an empty storefront along Newbury St., ordinarily a busy shopping area in Boston, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It’s never exactly easy to keep a small business running in Boston, where in better days the competition can be steep, the clientele demanding, and the rent sky-high. And in a worst-case scenario like an economy-obliterating pandemic, it’s all but impossible to stay open without some serious help.

“Boston’s 40,000 small businesses are at the heart of our economy and our community. We depend on them, and that’s never been more clear than it is right now,” Walsh said in a recorded address posted over the weekend. “This is the time of unprecedented challenge. One thing we know: To get through it and bring our economy back to full strength afterward, we are going to need our small businesses.”

If you’re one of them, and you’re in dire straights right now, here are some of the resources available to you:

Get a Signal Boost from the City

If you’re still operating, you can add your information to the city’s constantly updated list of businesses that are still open, including laundromats, grocery stores, bike and car repair shops, and courier services.

The city is also maintaining a directory of restaurants offering delivery service, called Support Boston Restaurants. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 350 eateries were on the list. Good news for those restaurants: A bill filed by Gov. Baker may soon allow sales of beer and wine along with takeout and delivery orders.

Install a Temporary Pick-Up Zone

A new city program is also being made available to businesses offering pickup and takeout service. Want to set up a five-minute parking zone outside your front door, so customers can drop in and out? Here’s how to do it.

Consult the City’s Takeout and Delivery Advice

Lots of restaurants in the city are offering delivery and takeout for the first time, so the city’s guidebook offers some pointers on how to do it properly.

Take a City-Run Survey

City officials are attempting to track the impact of the outbreak on businesses by inviting businesses to fill out surveys. More than 1,100 filled out the first one, and another is underway. Walsh has said it will help the city plan and prioritize its response efforts.

If You’re Still Open, Heed the CDC’s Advice

The agency is offering guidance for essential businesses on how to keep employees safe.

Use the Artist Relief Fund

Eligible Boston artists, who are a bit like small businesses in their own right, can apply for $500 and $1,000 grants from a city fund. Want to help? Here’s how to donate.

Join a Conference Call

The city’s Office of Economic Development has hosted two recorded conference calls in recent weeks to answer questions. You can watch archived videos of them here and here, and you can submit questions via email at smallbiz@boston.gov.

Get a Low-Interest Loan

The feds are offering low-interest loans of up to $2 million via the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to businesses impacted by the outbreak. Many small business owners, naturally, fear the long-term consequences of the outbreak and worry they may not be able to repay even low-interest debt and are asking for more substantial help from the government. Still, the rates are in fact low, at 3.75 percent for for-profit businesses, and 2.75 for not-for-profits, and the terms can be extended to as many as 30 years in some cases. Questions? Get in touch with the SBA’s Massachusetts district office.

Federally Backed Emergency Loans

The $2 trillion package making its way through Congress would provide federally-backed loans to small businesses that agree to keep paying employees.

Talk to Some Local Experts

We’re told the Small Business Administration is working overtime, fielding an unprecedented number of calls.

Brush Up on Guidance from the Attorney General…

The AG’s Fair Labor Division is publishing a list of FAQs from employers and employees related to the crisis. It’s available here.

…And from Lawyers for Civil Rights

It’s been posting regular updates answering legal questions that have emerged, and is a helpful resource.

Get a Mortgage Deferment, or Have a Chat with your Landlord

John Barros, Boston’s economic development head, says many banks have indicated they are ready to work out relief plans for building owners, which may allow them to defer mortgage payments. In theory, that should help businesses who pay rent to them, assuming they’re willing to cut renters a break as a result.