In March 2020, as non-essential brick-and-mortar businesses in Minnesota were ordered to close their doors to customers, some booksellers like The Red Balloon Bookshop were granted “critical worker status.” The status enabled The Red Balloon to have an employee on the premises to process book orders and to make local deliveries. For owner Holly Weinkauf, it provided a bit of hope. It also required a monumental shift in the way the bookstore had operated in the 36 years it had been a fixture on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue—a decade of which she’d been the owner.
In addition to ensuring the infrastructure was in place to support online and phone orders, Weinkauf had to change how the bookstore itself was set up. Retail space that was once dedicated to inventory was turned into an area for processing and shipping orders. Online sales gradually increased, but it wasn’t coming close to making up for The Red Balloon’s regular foot traffic and retail customers. As a seller of books primarily for children and young adults, the inability to host weekly story time and large author events had a big impact on sales, as did the absence of book fairs hosted by schools.
“We had to completely reconfigure, rethink, rework the whole way we were doing business,” said Weinkauf. “As the owner trying to figure those things out with my team of incredible booksellers … I just found it really overwhelming.”
Weinkauf quickly realized online orders alone would not sustain the business. She worried about her employees and how she’d cover payroll and other expenses. She learned about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) being offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) from her business banker, Julie Novak, Senior Vice President of Commercial Loans at BankCherokee. Through the program, business owners could apply for low-interest loans to cover payroll, rent, interest, and utilities. PPP loans could be partially or fully forgiven if the business retained its employees and kept wages stable.
Novak supported Weinkauf through the process of applying for a PPP loan and navigating the forgiveness process when it came time to repay the loan. She provided other resources to help keep the business afloat as well, like access to virtual seminars, including one Weinkauf found especially helpful on leading through times of uncertainty.
“It’s obvious to me that not every bank gives that kind of support,” said Weinkauf. “I feel very grateful to be a small business that has a small community bank that’s so supportive of us.”
Novak helped more than 100 small businesses like The Red Balloon Bookshop secure PPP funding during the pandemic. In all, BankCherokee has provided $73 million in PPP loans for 650 Minnesota businesses.
BankCherokee continues to support small businesses beyond the Paycheck Protection Program. Conventional and SBA loans provide critical capital for businesses as they maneuver the pandemic and begin to enter more stable economic times. Novak and each of BankCherokee’s expert commercial lenders work with business owners on an individual level to understand what kind of specific support is critical to their success—right now and in the future.
“I view BankCherokee as a team member with these businesses,” said Novak. “We succeed by having our customers success and that’s our motto.”
Lines of credit, equipment loans, and real estate loans are important resources to help businesses run smoothly, especially during challenging times like this past year.